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Buffaloes taking aim at Dragons

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Buffaloes  taking aim  at Dragons

Lechi Nkwocha, chasing down Inderkum RB Marcus Gilbert in last week’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinal, and the Manteca defense will have its hands full against Sacramento’s potent spread...

HIME ROMERO/Bulletin file photo/


POSTED December 5, 2013 12:49 a.m.

Brandon Dabney hopes to be the speed bump that slows down the lightningrod receiver nicknamed “Wheels.”

Record-breaking wide out Damen Wheeler and No. 5 Sacramento (11-2) take on Dabney’s second-seeded Buffaloes of Manteca High (12-1) on Friday for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III title.

The Dragons are making headlines in the Sacramento area with their historic postseason run, and Wheeler is garnering much attention for his most recent and electrifying effort. He burned No. 8 Christian Brothers, which fell 48-38 in the semifinal contest, for 380 yards and four touchdowns on just eight receptions. Wheeler could have had five touchdowns, but his 85-yard play was negated by a holding penalty in the fourth quarter.

Cal-Hi Sports editor Mark Tennis confirmed earlier this week that the 380 yards is a new state record, eclipsing Ramon Nevarez’s (Bolsa Grande of Garden Grove) total of 377 set in 1996. Each of Wheeler’s four touchdown catches covered no less than 67 yards, including a 99-yarder that ties a national record.

Wheeler’s name is a familiar one up north. His father, also Damen Wheeler, starred at Valley High in the mid-1990s, played collegiately at Colorado and professionally in the NFL, XFL and Arena Football League.

Dabney, Manteca’s top cornerback with four interceptions and 15 deflected passes, has had to cover several of the section’s most productive receivers this week.

On Friday, he meets the most productive.

“He’s definitely the fastest,” Dabney said. “He has over 1,500 yards receiving — that’s ridiculous. He’s going to be one of the best receivers I’ve ever guarded so I’m just going to have to do what I do every week and adjust. “

Wheeler actually has 1,840 receiving yards (most in the section, No. 2 in the state), averages 23.3 per catch and 22 touchdowns.

In Valley Oak League play Dabney matched up with Sierra’s Lucas Widmer (60 receptions, 1,012 yards, 12 TDs) and Bryson Sanders (71-717-6), who each broke single-season school records this year. Manteca saw similar receivers in its second-round win over Casa Roble, and the athletic Khalil Hudson of Inderkum gave the Buffaloes some trouble last week.

“This is a different type of receiver,” Dabney said of Wheeler. “Casa Roble’s receivers were big but not fast. Inderkum’s receivers were fast but not real aggressive. But this dude, he’s blazing.”

That’s not all

“So dangerous,” Manteca head coach Eric Reis said of the Dragons’ daunting spread offense.

His Buffaloes are battle-tested against spreads having seen Weston Ranch, Sierra, Central Valley (twice) and Casa Roble. None compare to what they are up against Friday night.

“We’ve gotten different flavors (of the spread),” Reis said. “Central Valley runs the spread but they were running the ball out of it. Sierra and Casa Roble are system spread teams that distribute the ball real well.

“Sacramento’s spread features tunnel screens and they like to throw it deep. It’s real similar to Stagg — those kinds of athletes and those kinds of plays. We saw Stagg last year and were pretty competitive (51-47 loss). The more I think about it, (Sacramento’s spread) is most comparable to Stagg’s.

It all starts with sophomore quarterback Caden Voges (4,139 yards, 47 TDs, 22 interceptions), the second leading passer in the section. Reis called him “slippery” for his ability to evade pass rushers and gain yards on the ground. He has run for 696 yards and 10 scores.

And oh by the way, Sac has two 1,000-yard receivers. Meet Kyree Stephens (66-1,047-13), a smaller receiver at 5-foot-8, 155 pounds compared to Wheeler, listed at 6-3, 180. Elton Myers (39-439-3) is another big target at 6-3.

“If we limit No. 3 (Wheeler) and No. 1 (Stephens) we win the ballgame,” Dabney said. “Those two are their dudes.”

Manteca also has to account for running back Lonny Powell, who makes the most out of his few touches. He averages 12.2 yards per carry and has 814 yards and 10 TDs.

Dragons’ defense

The Metro League’s runner-up has one three-game stretch in which it gave up six total points against conference opponents that combined for five wins all season.

Sacramento otherwise gives up points, but it does have playmakers on the defensive side, too.

“We have to play fundamentally sound and limit mistakes,” Reis said. “They are good at stripping the ball. That’s a big part of their game.”

Powell is part of the Dragons’ stout linebacker unit that includes West Simpson (22 sacks) and Kalen McDonald (142 tackles). The 6-1, 220-pounder has 118 tackles and a section-leading 23 sacks. Safety Kyron Basped leads the team with five interceptions.

“We’ve seen them run different kinds of defenses,” Reis said. “What makes it hard for us to guesstimate is they’ve played so many spread teams.

“We got to see how they tried to adjust against Oakdale’s wing-T, but they are more used to rushing the quarterback. That will be interesting because we’re not anything they are used to seeing.”

History in the making

The second-oldest public school west of the Mississippi River (1856) has had little postseason success over the years. Since the SJS started to hold postseason games in 1976, the Dragons have made just seven playoff appearances including the last five.

It wasn’t until three weeks ago, Nov. 16, that Sacramento won its first-ever playoff game, knocking off Benicia, 42-35.

While Manteca hadn’t won a playoff game since 2007, it is overall one of the section’s most successful programs. The Buffaloes are in the middle of their 19th postseason run with a 21-15 record. They will make their eighth section title game appearance, which is tied for sixth most in the SJS, and are within reach of the program’s fourth championship.

Unfamiliar surroundings

The game will take place on the artificial turf at Lincoln High’s Alex G. Spanos Stadium. That seems to favor the quicker Sacramento team.

To get used to the surface, Reis arranged for the Buffaloes to practice on a turf field Wednesday.

“We’ve only played on it once this year,” he said on Monday.

That was at Oakdale, where Reis had never previously won as a head coach until the Buffs got him over the hump with a 35-20 win.

The nighttime setting could take some getting used to for Sac, which hosts games on Saturdays with 1 o’clock kickoffs. Eight of the Dragons’ 13 games were at home, including their three playoff contests.

One thing both teams will have to get accustomed to is possible rain and high-30 degree temperatures. Section teams around these parts have been fortunate to avoid both all season.

Kicking it old school

Reis and his coaching staff attended Sacramento’s game Saturday, and he was impressed by the crowd at Oak Park. Also in attendance were many of Sacramento’s alumni donning letterman jackets.

Manteca also managed to pack the home stands last Friday at Guss Schmiedt Field despite the Thanksgiving break, and the Buffaloes of old made their presence felt. It was likely Manteca’s largest crowd of the season, and that’s with letterman-wearing alums crowding a designated area behind the south end zone.

“It was mostly alums and adults and not as many kids because of Thanksgiving,” Reis said. “It was cool to see that kind of support for a game that big.”

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