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Manteca can force logjam atop standings

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Manteca can force logjam atop standings

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POSTED October 29, 2009 1:57 a.m.
The playoffs have unofficially begun in the Valley Oak League.

For the city’s two title hopefuls, Manteca and Sierra, it began Oct. 9 in the second week of the regular season.

Sierra got the upper hand, 23-15. Manteca rebounded with a resounding 37-13 win over previously undefeated Sonora, which turned around and handed Sierra its first loss last week, 17-7.

“There are so many star players in the league that returned this year, so I think we all kind of knew it was going to be a dogfight,” Manteca coach Eric Reis said. “And it has turned into a four-way fight.”

The fourth party in the battle royal is defending champion Oakdale, the league’s remaining undefeated team. The Mustangs end the regular season against each of the three other title contenders starting with Manteca at home Friday.

Assuming Sierra takes care of business on Homecoming night against Ceres, while Sonora defeats East Union, a win for the Buffaloes (3-1, 5-2 overall) would force a four-way tie at the top. And up to three teams could end up sharing the title.

Win or lose Friday, Manteca could still wrap up a postseason berth by defeating Central Valley and East Union. But for now, the playoffs are the furthest thing from the Buffaloes’ minds.

“Our kids realize they have an opportunity to win at least a co-championship,” Reis said. “Our first goal has always been to win league.”

Oakdale’s brutal stretch toward the finish resumes against Sierra, which has never beaten the Mustangs, back at home Nov. 6 before closing with Sonora on the road.

Considering Oakdale’s dominance at The Corral this decade and Manteca’s struggles away from Guss Schmiedt Field, winning on Friday won’t be an easy task for the Buffaloes.

Oakdale, No. 6 on CalHiSports.com’s CIF Bowl Division-II North rankings, hasn’t lost at The Corral since rival Sonora clinched the league championship on a Hail Mary pass in 2000.

Since then, Oakdale has won five VOL championships (2002, 03, 04, 07, 08). Manteca has beaten Oakdale just three times since 2000, and each victory was a stepping stone toward a Sac-Joaquin Section postseason title run.

Sonora and Weston Ranch shared the 2005 crown with Manteca.

Both of Manteca’s losses this season were in hostile territory — first at traditional rival Tracy’s field in non-league action, then at Sierra. The Buffaloes opened their non-league schedule at Soquel near Santa Cruz. They won 23-17, but penalties and turnovers made it tougher than it should have been.

“It does help that we’ve been in tough games on the road, unfortunately we didn’t play well,” Reis said. “Hopefully we learned something. Our team had its best practice of the year (Tuesday), so hopefully our guys can build from that and play good football Friday night.”
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