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BEST FOOT FORWARD

Division II bowl a battle for respect

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BEST FOOT FORWARD

Manteca senior linemen Isaac McClain (77) and Billy Sharmoug (79) blast off the line during warm-up drills on Thursday.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin/


POSTED December 13, 2013 12:40 a.m.

Eric Reis isn’t buying all the message-board chatter and talk about Enterprise’s supposed soft schedule. And he is making sure his Manteca Buffaloes aren’t putting stock into comparative scores with one common opponent.

While some in the Bay Area may still feel that both teams aren’t deserving of it, Manteca (13-1) and Enterprise (12-0) of Redding are locking up this Saturday at Lincoln High’s A.G. Spanos Stadium for the CIF Division II Regional Championship Bowl Game and a berth to the state’s title round.

“They’re 12-0 and haven’t lost a game,” Reis said. “They won their section and they have a lot of good teams in their section. Paradise is a good team, Sutter is a good team. We obviously can’t control what people think and say, just how we prepare for this game.”

It’s a showdown of two tradition-rich programs looking to gain respect from outside their sections’ vast borders.

Manteca is coming off three straight impressive performances against premier Sacramento-area teams, the last of them a 49-6 thumping of Sacramento in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III finals. It’s the largest-margin of victory ever for an SJS Division III championship game, and the Buffaloes earned their fourth overall section crown in the program’s eighth final-round appearances.

Enterprise, meanwhile, captured its eighth Northern Section banner and second in a row on Nov. 30 when it pounded Eastern Athletic League rival Paradise, 40-14. The Hornets have knocked off other NS powers decisively such as West Valley (28-3) and Sutter (47-21), a 2012 NorCal invitee.

While the SJS annually has a presence in the CIF Bowl Games since its inception in 2006, Enterprise is only the third from the NS to play past the section title game.

“We don’t know much about them or the competition they played,” Manteca quarterback Joe Menzel said. “They’re obviously a helluva football team. They are undefeated and they beat teams up there like it was nothing, but we feel like we’re a helluva football team, too.

“There are a lot of doubters still out there, but there have been doubters since Day 1. We take it as motivation.”

Many point to Enterprise’s season opener at Oakdale, which won this regional contest last year but returned just a single starter from that squad. A failed two-point conversion helped the Hornets escape with a 23-22 win.

Four weeks later, Manteca beat Oakdale, its longtime Valley Oak League foe, more convincingly, 35-20.

“They took an even longer drive to Oakdale and beat them at Oakdale, which is not easy,” Reis said. “And they are so much better (now) than they were that week. Number 24 (standout running back Isaiah Matthews) hardly even carried the ball against Oakdale, so they’ve definitely changed a lot of who they are from that game and we can see how much better they are.”

Reis said Manteca is also much improved since sustaining its lone loss to Wilcox of Santa Clara on Sept. 6. Not that losing a 28-27 overtime heartbreaker to a team that competed in the Central Coast Section’s ultra-competitive Open Division playoffs is anything to be ashamed of.

The bottom line is that Manteca and Enterprise were the two teams selected by CIF commissioners. Miramonte and Los Gatos made their case by knocking off the North Coast and CCS favorites. No matter what schools were picked, two were going to feel robbed.

“I got to meet coach (Darren) Trueblood and talked with him on the phone, and he is a class act,” Reis said. “They thought they were going to get hosed, too. When it all shook out, they were ecstatic like us. As much as it’s an inconvenience for them to drive down here, they are happy to be in the game and have the opportunity to show people that they are legit, as do we.”

In many ways, Manteca and Enterprise are kindred spirits with their excellence in athletics and hard-nosed athletes who bask in the role of underdogs. The cities of Redding, with its estimated population of 92,000, and Manteca (71,000) are expected to be well-represented on Saturday night.

For both schools there will be more on the line than a Northern California championship and a trip to the StubHub Center in Carson for the CIF Bowl Games.

“They want to be considered one of the top teams just like we do,” Reis said. “This is an important game to our seniors, because now they have a chance to go to unchartered waters. No Manteca High team has ever won a NorCal (title), so this is something they can do to set themselves apart and set the bar even higher for the program. Now, we’re thinking about pushing Manteca High to be a state contender type team. That’s something these guys take a lot of pride in. We want to do something extraordinary.

“You look at the teams that are in this, and it’s the same teams that are deep in their section playoffs every year. There’s something to be said for that, so it’s just an honor for us to be in the conversation.”

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