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Manteca set for NorCal clash with Enterprise & its physical spread

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Quarterback Joe Menzel shares laughs with teammates in the huddle during practice Thursday night at Manteca High.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED December 14, 2013 1:28 a.m.

Manteca has seen several variations of the spread offense in recent weeks.

Tonight, the Buffaloes (13-1) will see another.

They take on Enterprise (12-0), making the three-hour trip from Redding, tonight at Stockton’s Lincoln High in the CIF Division II Regional Championship Bowl Game. Kickoff is set for 7:30 at A.G. Spanos Stadium.

Enterprise will be the sixth team in the last eight weeks to run a spread against Manteca. Coincidence? Buffalo defensive coordinator Rick James said it’s just a sign of the times.

“We’re in a new age of football,” James said Friday night. “Everybody seems to be spending a lot of time being productive on offense, and it’s not getting any easier for defenses. Our kids have taken on that challenge the last two weeks.”

In the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship game last Friday, Dec. 6 (also at Spanos Stadium), Manteca encountered the most dangerous spread passing attack it has faced this season in Sacramento (11-3). The Dragons featured the section’s second most productive QB in sophomore Caden Voges (4,351 yards, 48 TDs) and record-setting speed demon Damen Wheeler (86 receptions, 1,931 yards, 23 TDs). In the semifinals, a 48-38 win over Christian Brothers, they hooked up eight times for four touchdowns and a new single-game state record 380 receiving yards for Wheeler.

In the SJS final, Wheeler had only 91 yards found the end zone just once, and Manteca rolled to a resounding 49-6 victory — the widest margin for a championship game in SJS Division III history.

“I’m really proud of our defensive unit. We feel like we’re playing our best ball as of late,” James said. “We had great efforts against Casa Roble (49-13 in the quarterfinals) and Sacramento, who came in scoring darn near 50 points a game.”

Those were teams — like Sierra, Manteca’s crosstown and Valley Oak League rival — that threw the majority of the time. Enterprise more resembles Central Valley’s spread in that it runs more out of it, but the similarities end there.

While CV — which lost a wild 69-55 shootout to Manteca in the first round of the SJS playoffs — did its damage with the super-shifty running back-quarterback combo of Ja’Quan Gardner and Kendel Johnson, Enterprise does it with heavy doses of Isaiah Matthews. More of a bulldozing type of back at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, Matthews has run for 1,860 yards (8.2 per carry) and 25 touchdowns behind a physical offensive line.

It’s a spread similar to what Sierra operated last year with the hard-charging Anthony Cota pounding his way into the school’s record books.

“(Matthews’) body type is a lot like his,” Manteca head coach Eric Reis said. “He’s a big kid who runs with a good forward lean and breakaway speed.”

Enterprise likes to run between its enormous tackles, but it can hurt defenses on the outside as well. Enter 5-7, 155-pound receiver Izzy Perea, the Hornets’ second-leading receiver (23 catches, 506 yards, 8 TDs). Manteca can expect him to get a couple carries on fly sweeps. He has rushes for 11 yards a pop (329 total) and has three touchdowns.

“From what we understand they’ve evolved over the last five to 10 years,” James said. “They started years ago as an I-back team, switched to the fly and then to the spread. They have found ways to incorporate what they used to do to what they do now.”

Airing it out

Unlike Central Valley, which ran the ball almost exclusively, Enterprise does do work through the air. Aside from Perea, quarterback Bobby Luken (65.3 completion percentage, 1,632 yards, 27 TDs, 8 picks) has another weapon in 6-2, 200-pound Alex Talladino (674 yards, 13 TDs).

“They’re real effective with what they do with their receivers,” James said. “They run a lot of tunnel screens and score on those types of plays. My DBs (defensive backs) help in stopping the run game, but they know they have to take care of business in the passing game.”

Steering Manteca’s run-first attack is third-year varsity QB Joe Menzel (1,826 yards, 25 yards, 5 picks), who has completed 66.7 percent of his attempts. With the emerging Nick Gatehouse (11 receptions, 302 yards, 5 TDs) and athletic Brandon Dabney (35-529-5) on the outside, 6-5 tight end Michael Hatfield (23-266-3) up the middle and Laurel (19-359-8)

“They are very good and very disciplined in what they do,” Menzel said of Enterprise. “They have some big dudes, too. It’s going to be a tough task, but I think we have a good game plan.

“I’m very confident in what we do in the passing game. I’m confident our offensive line will give me the time to throw and we have a lot of weapons.”

Strength vs. strength

Manteca runs a more traditional power-I offense and has run it well this season. Running back Alex Laurel has shattered the program’s modern-day rushing (1,842) and scoring (47 touchdowns) records and has his offensive line to thank.

Manteca standouts Isaac McClain (6-3, 291) and Billy Sharmoug (6-2, 301) will have their hands full on both sides of scrimmage. Washington State commit Brandon Evers (6-7, 290) anchors Enterprise at right tackle and defensive end. Left tackle Casey Gunter (6-3, 261) and left guard Skyler Ferguson (6-2, 245) are other stout figures on the Hornets’ four-man defensive front.

“Inderkum and Sac had some pretty big linemen, too, so we’ve been battle-tested up front,” McClain said.

There will be some interesting matchups with Evers. He typically lines up near the right tackle, a spot occupied by 6-5, 312-pound Joe Eavenson. When Evers is on offense, he will try to keep the likes of outside linebacker Jacob LeDon, the VOL’s Defensive Player of the Year, away from the backfield.

“They have a great offensive line and we have a great offensive line,” James said. “It’s still a game that’s going to be won in the trenches.”

Burly ’backers

Getting past Enterprise’s first line of defense is one thing.

Behind them will be up to four hard-hitting linebackers, a group that includes Matthews on the right side. On the other end is Talladino, who leads the team with six sacks. Between them are leading tacklers Nick Tomasin (5-11, 225) and John Boschell (6-1, 252). They have racked up 144 and 77 tackles, respectively.

“They are definitely one of the more stout defenses we’ve seen this year,” Reis said. “We know they are very physical and they tackle real well.”

Coaching greats

Both teams are led by men who place emphasis on the great traditions of their storied programs, and they themselves have already left their own mark.

Manteca’s Reis is the all-time winningest coach with a 109-31-2 record (76.8 winning percentage) for a program that started in 1923 under B.F. Mellow. The Buffaloes have won three of their four section championships under Reis (2005-06, 2013), who has led them to the postseason in 10 of his 12 years.

Enterprise, which fielded its first football team in 1954, owns eighth Northern Section titles including the last two under the guidance of Darren Trueblood. The 11th-year head coach is the Hornets’ second winningest with 88.

“I know Enterprise has been one of the better teams in their area for a long time,” Reis said. “They’re like us; we want to get to that next level. We know the city is behind our team, so we’re going to do our best to represent our league, our section and the town.”

Host with the most?

There is some question as to which team is considered the “host.”

Enterprise’s perfect record would suggest that it would be the virtual top seed. Travel distances would suggest otherwise. While Manteca treks 23.4 miles north (according to Google Maps) for the second time in as many weeks, the Hornets are venturing 201 miles south from their own campus.

Manteca’s football players are reportedly going to gear up in their away whites, but their fans are returning to the home side of the stadium that they packed last week despite terrible weather conditions.

Whatever the case, get there early. Sacramento didn’t bring much of a crowd to Spanos Stadium for the SJS Division III finals, but Reis is expecting Enterprise to be very well represented across the way.

“It’s a great facility and a great atmosphere for a football game,” Reis said. “And it’s going to be a madhouse.”

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