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Manteca, Oakdale ready to rumble in battle of unbeatens

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Manteca, Oakdale ready to rumble in battle of unbeatens

Manteca High’s C.J. Rivas chases down Oakdale sophomore quarterback Spencer Thomas in a Valley Oak League contest on Oct. 29, 2010.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin


POSTED October 27, 2011 1:37 a.m.

“Somebody’s ‘O’ has got to go.”

That’s what legendary ring announcer Michael Buffer says to help build excitement moments before two undefeated boxers go toe to toe in the squared circle.

It also applies to the gridiron of The Corral this Friday when Oakdale hosts Manteca High in an anticipated matchup between 8-0 Valley Oak League heavyweights.

“Both these programs are the bullies on the block,” said Manteca coach Eric Reis, who is 3-6 against Oakdale coach Trent Merzon — a former teammate of Reis’ in their college playing days.

“They both want the same thing, which is to be the best,” Reis continued. “This year’s game should be another great chapter in the rivalry.

And there have been some epic battles waged between the two squads in recent history:

•In 2006, Reis’ Buffaloes overcame 11 penalties by putting forth one of their best defensive efforts of the season in a 17-7 win at Guss Schmiedt Field. The victory was the 40th in the head coaching career of Reis, who was in his fifth season. Manteca went on to capture its third Sac-Joaquin Section title in six years.

•Oakdale won the SJS Division-IV title the following year. A month before earning a section crown the Mustangs squeaked out a 21-20 win at home against Manteca — a heavy underdog. It came down to a failed 2-point conversion in the fourth quarter.

•And who can forget the 2009 thriller back at The Corral? Oakdale won by 12 — 35-23 — but a mere inches may have made the difference. Running back Marquis Miller was stopped short of the first-down marker on a fourth-and-2 play inside Oakdale’s 10-yard line with 5 minutes, 30 seconds remaining. Oakdale, leading 28-23 at this point, countered with a back-breaking touchdown on the next series. Oakdale shared the VOL title with Sierra that year, and both reached the SJS Division-III semifinals.

•Manteca avenged the 2009 loss last year, 35-28, and had a goal-line stand near the end of each half. Oakdale led 28-27 in the fourth quarter and faced a fourth-and-1 on the Buffalo 4, but 6-2, 215-pound fullback A.C. Brown was stuffed at the line of scrimmage by 5-7, 155-pound cornerback David Farrington. The Buffaloes fed off that big play on offense, covering 96 yards on just five plays to take the lead for good. The two teams ended up sharing the league championship.

Their undefeated records add to the allure of this year’s showdown; it’s the first time since Reis took over as head coach that both have faced off with unblemished marks on the line this late in a season.

Despite the mirroring records, Manteca is the underdog in this bout, a role the team traditionally relishes.

Oakdale has been touted as the runaway favorite to win league since it lost to Del Oro 21-0 in last year’s SJS Division-III championship game. Five starters were sophomores for that Oakdale team, including quarterback Spencer Thomas.

The Mustangs are ranked seventh in the section and 48th in the state by MaxPreps.com.

“We are going to have to play at an extremely high level this week to win,” Reis said. “The good news is we are playing with house money. Nobody thought we would be in this spot.”

Thomas has thrown for 1,194 yards and 10 touchdowns against only one pick, and Marcus Hernandez (914 yards, 7.5 per carry, 20 TDs) leads a loaded backfield.

And Oakdale’s reserves have seen plenty of time on the field this year. Its closest margin of victory was 33-7 against Turlock back in Week 1. The Mustangs haven’t won by less than 30 since.

“No team has given them a game,” Reis said. “I don’t know if I have ever seen such a large margin of victory through eight games. They went to the section finals last year and bring back a lot of those players, (and) the quarterback is back and is much improved.

“They have more balance on offense this year, which makes them even more dangerous.”

And in case you’re wondering, Manteca should have its full lineup of starters ready for Friday’s game. Quarterback Alex Martinez (thumb) saw limited action last week after missing two-plus games. Two-way players Cameron Harvey (RB/LB), Joe Trout (RB/LB) and Daniel Clemons (C/DL) were among five starters who did not play in the Lathrop game but should also be good to go.

Sonora at East Union

Sonora (4-1, 6-2) split two well-contested shootouts against the other Manteca schools the past two weeks, while East Union (1-4, 1-7) is coming off one of its best efforts in a loss at Kimball.

Sonora loves to mix it up on the ground, but its pass defense is prone to giving up big plays. The Wildcats gave up 326 passing yards to Sierra last week.

Whether it’s sophomore Joe Menzel or Jack Zellar (who made his first start last week) behind center, talented wide out T.J. Williams is key for EU.

Lathrop at Sierra

Sierra (2-3, 3-5) has alternated wins with losses in VOL play so far but has a chance to close the regular-season with back-to-back victories and an outside shot of sneaking into the playoffs.

The spread attack is rolling with quarterback Anthony Perea, WR Zach Penirian and RB Jayson Manuta putting up big numbers in three of the Timberwolves’ last four contests.

Lathrop (0-5, 1-7) hung with undefeated Manteca last week, though the Buffaloes sat several dinged-up starters to heal up for this Friday’s big game at Oakdale.

Weston Ranch at Kimball

Junior QB Zach Johnson did not play in last week’s East Union game because of an ankle injury, and Kimball (1-4, 2-6) barely squeaked out a 38-35 win. If he plays Friday, a back-and-forth shootout could be in store.

Like Kimball, Weston Ranch (2-3, 3-5) can pound it on the ground and come through with home-run plays through the air.

Both squads nearly upset playoff-bound Sonora on the road, with Weston Ranch losing 34-29 and Kimball falling 35-20.

Ripon at Riverbank

The Indians (2-2, 6-2) can take a breather after chasing Modesto Christian’s receivers around in last week’s big 40-33 Trans-Valley League win. They gave up 356 passing yards and four touchdowns to Arizona-bound QB Nathan Sudfeld.

Ripon now faces a Riverbank squad (0-4, 3-5) that was beat 61-6 by MC in a TVL opener.

The Bruins do have one of the conference’s most dynamic players in QB/DB Alex Reynaga, who has thrown for 544 yards and six touchdowns, run for 794 yards and seven scores and intercepted nine passes on defense.

Waterford at Ripon Christian

Ripon Christian (3-2, 4-4) did well to limit Delhi’s running game in a surprisingly one-sided 35-7 Southern League win on the road last week.

The Knights will look to do the same against Waterford (3-2, 4-4), which stunned second-place Mariposa 21-14 last week. The Wildcats boast two physical running backs in Branson Angle and Dylan Gonzalez, who have each rushed for over 500 yards seven TDs apiece.

RC has won three straight after losing 27-7 at Mariposa. Both RC and Waterford need to win out to have a shot at a playoff berth.

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