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Buffs moving on from heartache of years past

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POSTED November 23, 2013 1:33 a.m.

Eric Reis and his coaching staff lined the hallway with backs slumped against the walls that lead to the locker room at Manteca High’s Walker Vick Fieldhouse.

Silence.

A morgue was more festive than this scene.

Members of the print media waited patiently, hoping that Reis, or anybody, would breathe life into the dead air. One player could be heard from inside the locker room, voicing his frustration and taking it out on a hapless locker.

Reis snapped out of his daydream — or nightmare, rather — and closed the locker-room door before approaching reporters for his most gut-wrenching postgame interview.

Ninth-seeded Casa Roble had just come back from a 28-3 third-quarter deficit to shock No. 8 Manteca, 35-28.

It was Nov. 20, 2009. I remember it like it was yesterday.

And yesterday, Nov. 22, 2013, will not be forgotten either.

This time, the Buffaloes celebrated under the scoreboard that read “Buffaloes 49, Visitors 13.”

Those visitors? Casa Roble.

Silence? Hardly.

“Maximus! Maximus! Maximus!” Reis chanted in unison with the players.

One of Reis’ unique traditions is picking a movie-based theme that is carried out through the season, this one being Gladiator.

“Last week wasn’t so pretty in the arena,” Reis said of Manteca’s 69-55 win over Central Valley that broke a section record for points scored in a single playoff game.

“We got our legs chopped off.”

All limbs were intact Friday night as players did “Buffalo jacks” in front of their home crowd. They will have at least one more chance to do it as second-seeded Manteca hosts No. 3 Inderkum in next week’s semifinals.

“It’s been a real special year and we’re enjoying the ride,” Reis said.

It’s been a while since the Buffaloes were passengers on a postseason tour that lasted this long. Until last week, Manteca hadn’t won a playoff game since 2007 and dropped four straight first-round contests starting with the Casa Roble game.

In 2008, it wasn’t even invited to the dance despite an 8-2 record under the now-defunct postseason format that allowed 2-8 Foothill to qualify in the Buffaloes’ place. That same year, cross-town rival Sierra beat them 7-6 (it came down to a botched PAT) for the first time in eight seasons.

That was one of many heart-piercing losses endured by Manteca from 2007-12. In 2010, Manteca was the section’s top-seeded Division III team but was trounced by No. 16 Vanden, 55-22.

But 2013 has gone differently for the Green Machine. Its march to the Valley Oak League title included stops at Oakdale and Sierra. It wasn’t until this his 12th season as Manteca’s head coach that Reis had won a game at The Corral in Oakdale.

Manteca hip-tossed that postseason gorilla off its back with last week’s wild win over Central Valley and exorcised another demon Friday by doing what the 2009 team couldn’t — keeping Casa Roble’s back flat on the canvas.

“These kids weren’t even around that, but it’s us old coaches that it still affects,” Reis said of that fateful chilly night in 2009. “We showed (the players) highlights of that game. They had so many trick stuff and zany plays that worked out for them, and we wanted to make sure we were ready for it this time.

“Even when the game was out of our hand we wanted to keep the foot on the gas because they are so dangerous.”

Redemption Run 2013 resumes against Inderkum, another team that contributed to Manteca’s dubious stretch of playoff futility. It was last year that the Tigers fended off the upset-minded Buffs up in Sacramento, 30-21.

Win next Friday, and these gladiators get to do battle at the Colosseum.

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