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Buffaloes clock Casa Roble

Laurel, Soto key Manteca’s all-out ground assault

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Buffaloes clock Casa Roble

Manteca running back Hector Soto dives for the goal line but is stopped short by Dallas Knapp (20) and Dusty Dutra (11) of Casa Roble in Friday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division III quarterfinal at Gu...

Photo by SEAN KAHLER/


POSTED November 23, 2013 1:34 a.m.

Alex Laurel jumped over the goal line, splitting two defenders on the way to his fourth touchdown of the evening.

Zip, zip, zoom.

Hector Soto stayed low to the ground, disappearing behind linemen before shooting through a crease like a pin ball.

Tackle him, if you dare.

And then there was Michael Gonzalez, a shifty compliment to both Laurel and Soto, slithering his way through the Casa Roble defense for long gains.

On Friday, No. 10 Casa Roble arrived at venerable Guss Schmiedt Field with a big-armed quarterback and designs of warming the night sky with a football fireworks show.

Instead, the pass-happy Rams were grounded by the Buffaloes’ power ground game, a three-headed monster that thrived in the mud and the muck.

Laurel topped 100 yards for the fourth straight game and second-seeded Manteca controlled the tempo of the game from the outset in a 49-13 victory in the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.

Laurel rushed for four touchdowns, his last triggering a running clock with 4 minutes, 3 seconds left in the game. He carried the ball 31 times for a hard-fought 121 yards, and now has nine touchdowns in two playoff games.

Quarterback Joe Menzel and Soto each found the end zone once for the Buffaloes, who atoned for a 2009 first-round loss to Casa Roble. Manteca (11-1) continues down a road of redemption next week against No. 3 Inderkum, which beat Vanden 62-42 on Friday evening. Inderkum stopped Manteca’s season a year ago in the first round.

“This team has been a pleasure to be around,” Manteca coach Eric Reis said. “It’s clear these guys have a tight-knit group.”

That relationship is probably best personified by the fleet of running backs at offensive coordinator Neil MacDannald’s disposal.

While Laurel received a lion’s share of the carries (31), five other Buffaloes toted the ball at least once.

Gonzalez had seven rushes for 73 yards, setting up Laurel’s second touchdown early in the second quarter with bursts of 12 and 20 yards.

Soto was the featured runner on the Buffaloes’ third drive. The 5-foot-6, 179-pound junior powered Manteca down the field. At one point, Soto carried the ball three consecutive times for 29 yards, positioning the Buffaloes at the Casa Roble 1-yard line.

Menzel followed his line into the end zone for a 21-7 lead.

“It’s a monster that keeps coming at people,” Reis said of his run game. “They really keyed in on Laurel, but we know we have other guys. You saw that tonight.”

Soto rushed for 111 yards on 11 carries and answered Casa Roble’s quick strike to start the second half with a 5-yard touchdown.

“He stays so low to the ground and doesn’t go down on first contact,” Reis said of Soto, who went over the 100-yard mark with a 16-yard carry on fourth-and-3. “He gave us a big lift.”

Soto’s score triggered a 28-point spurt that clinched Manteca’s first semifinal appearance since 2006, the same year it won the last of back-to-back section championships.

Soto was just in grade school the last time the Buffaloes ventured this far into the postseason, but the moment wasn’t lost on him.

He stood among a crowd of family and friends locked in an embrace with longtime position coach Jack Miller.

“Unbelievable,” said Soto, a soft-spoken warrior.

The run game gave Manteca’s defense a much-needed reprieve, chewing up nearly 30 minutes of game clock.

One week after chasing Central Valley’s Ja’Quan Gardner all over the field in a shootout victory that drew national attention, the Buffaloes cuffed Casa.

Manteca limited quarterback Peyton Wilfley to just 196 yards and two touchdowns and forced two fumbles, one of which was returned by Gatehouse to make it 42-13.

The defensive back bobbled and nearly lost the fumble at his own 15-yard line, before racing away for the fourth-quarter score.

“We practice scoop-and-scores all the time,” Gatehouse said. “I could hear his (Miller’s) voice in my head, ‘Scoop and score! Scoop and score!’ It kind of scared me.”

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