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Buffaloes roll to fourth SJS championship; third in 8 years

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Manteca’s 12th-year head coach Eric Reis won his third Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship and the Buffaloes’ fourth overall Friday night after knocking off Sacramento 49-6 at Lincoln Hig...

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED December 7, 2013 1:44 a.m.

STOCKTON — Rain. Running clock. Ring.

Second-seeded Manteca dominated No. 5 Sacramento 49-6 Friday night on the slick surface at Lincoln High’s Spanos Stadium, garnering its fourth Sac-Joaquin Section championship and third since 2005 under 12th-year head coach Eric Reis.

“That’s all I wanted was that ring,” said Alex Laurel, Manteca’s star running back who turned in 160 yards and two touchdowns on his 22 carries.

“We were expecting a good game, but we were expecting to win, too.”

And they won big, setting a new section record in the process. The margin of victory is the widest ever in a Division III title game. Vanden’s 1975 squad held the previous record, a 36-0 rout of Mariposa.

The fate of the Buffaloes’ postseason run now rests in the hands of the California Interscholastic Federation commissioners, who will select section champions on Sunday to compete in the 10 regional Bowl Games.

Manteca made its case on Friday.

“If they choose us we’ll try to represent the best way we can,” Reis said. “If they don’t, this is a pretty good ending, too.”

Manteca (13-1) grounded the high-flying Dragons’ potent passing game. Sacramento (11-3), making its first section final-round appearance, were forced into four turnovers and finished well below its season averages.

The Dragons scored 46.3 points per game, passed for 318.7 yards and totaled 513.4 yards from scrimmage heading into Friday’s contest. Manteca had more rushing yards (322) than Sacramento did overall (308).

“It’s not very often do you put a plan together and it comes through exactly as you pictured,” standout two-way lineman Billy Sharmoug said.

Caden Voges (17 of 34, 189 yards; minus 25 rushing yards), Sac’s sophomore sensation behind center, was sacked five times and intercepted twice. The dual-threat QB was the section’s second-leading passer coming in with 4,139 yards.

“We just had to pressure him, make him uncomfortable and force him to make throws he didn’t want to make,” said Manteca linebacker Lechi Nkwocha, who accounted for two sacks.

Peter Moa added two sacks, and Sharmoug had one. Nate Gatehouse snatched up the two picks, and fellow defensive back Elijah Cooper recovered a fumble.

Sacramento effectively moved the ball downfield in the first half but had nothing to show for it. The Dragons reached the red zone twice in their first four drives but missed a 35-yard field goal and coughed up a fumble recovered by Nkwocha.

Manteca quarterback Joe Menzel scored the game’s first points on a 5-yard bootleg keeper with 46 seconds into the second quarter. After a three-and-out series from the defense, Laurel delivered the first big blow two plays later with a 51-yard jaunt up the middle.

Menzel (5 of 7, 57 yards) later hooked up with Gatehouse for a 33-yard touchdown that gave the Buffaloes a 21-0 hafltime lead.

 “We turned the ball over a bunch early and it hurt us,” Sacramento coach Paul Doherty said. “We were successful in moving the ball but we couldn’t score any points. They dominated both sides of the line of scrimmage and that’s usually the telling tale.”

“We felt like we belonged here but we got beat today. They played better and we just didn’t make any plays today.”

Sacramento’s best weapon in the first half was 6-foot-1, 220-pound running back Lonny Powell. He rushed for 97 of his 114 yards over the first two quarters. Amazingly, it was just his second 100-yard game of the season.

“When they ran the ball they were doing pretty good, but that’s not what they want to do,” Reis said.

It was a classic speed-power matchup, but ball security and discipline helped put Manteca over the top. Sacramento was penalized 10 times for 75 yards, while the Buffaloes were flagged just once on an offsides infraction. Manteca’s first scoring drive was aided by personal foul penalties on back-to-back plays.

“I was there last Saturday when they played Christian Brothers,” Sharmoug said. “We knew they were going to be chippy and lose their composure a little bit. Coach said all week in practice to just stay disciplined.”

Manteca’s power running game took over in the second half. Michael Gonzalez capped its opening drive with a 56-yard scamper, and Hector Soto (6 rushes, 52 yards) struck with an impressive 30-yarder with 5:28 left in the third.

The scoring plays sandwiched Sac’s lone touchdown. Damen Wheeler (6 catches, 71 yards), whose 380 receiving yards broke a state record last week, prevented the shutout with his 13-yard catch and run.

Laurel’s 9-yard TD with 1:12 left made it 42-6, including the fourth-quarter running clock. Gonzalez made the most of his three carries, rushing for 75 yards and two touchdowns.

“Laurel is a good back and I try to be a good complement to him,” Gonzalez said. “Soto is a good complement also. We just tear it up when we get our chances.”

Added Reis: “It’s been a team effort all year long. We have some phenomenal players.

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