When the run game is slowed down, it helps to be able to throw.
Manteca’s Ryan Ward did just that Friday night, throwing for 172 yards on just five completions with a pair of touchdowns to lead the Buffaloes to a 40-21 win over East Union in the Valley Oak League finale at Dino Cunial Field.
“Our run game was getting stopped a little bit in the first half,” Ward said. “We went in the locker room at halftime and talked among ourselves and I talked with the line and we decided to spread it out and sling it around a little bit and it paid off.”
Jacob DeJesus was Ward’s favorite target, netting 156 yards on three receptions, including a 69-yard touchdown catch late in the first quarter for a 6-0 Manteca lead. After the Buffaloes (5-1 VOL, 7-3 overall) shut the Lancers (2-4, 3-7) down on the following possession, DeJesus took the ensuing punt up the East Union sideline to the 15-yard line where he cut back to the middle and wiggled his way into the end zone to make the score 14-0.
“We haven’t had a punt return for a touchdown this whole season,” DeJesus said. “I was able to make a cut and make it in.”
DeJesus made a 43-yard reception on third and 3 yards to go near midfield midway through the third quarter to give Manteca first down at the Lancers 10, setting up a 7-yard scoring pass from Ward to Jorge Cedano for a 21-7 Buffaloes lead.
“I was running for a long time and I looked up and saw the ball coming,” DeJesus said. “It was super high in the air and I had to concentrate on it. I went up with two guys and I came down with the ball.”
DeJesus was not finished. On the first play following Cedano’s touchdown, DeJesus made an interception leading to a nine-play, 74-yard scoring drive capped with a 7-yard touchdown run by Trabron Russell (21 carries, 118 yards, two touchdowns). On that drive, DeJesus pulled in a 44-yard toss from Ward.
Manteca held East Union to 149 yards of offense and was led by Mark Buenrostro with four sacks.
“We have been working hard in practice,” Buenrostro said. “And we played hard, but we didn’t get the outcome we wanted because we want a shutout every game.
“Everybody was making plays to the ball and we were playing top defense.”
This game had all the makings of a bitter rivalry game from the start, with only one offensive touchdown in the first half with 120 yards in combined first-half penalties and 23 total penalties for 255 yards.
“We knew they were going to come out fired up with guns blazing and we had to weather the storm a little bit,” Buffaloes coach Mark Varnum said. “Obviously, we have a lot of stuff we have to work on and that we have to fix before playoffs. We’re happy that we are moving on.
“We knew that once we got DeJesus and the rest of our weapons going that good things would happen. They loaded the box on us so Ward threw some money balls with Jacob (DeJesus) doing his thing and Jorge (Cedano) too. That’s the nice thing with how balanced we are — if the run game is not working we have other options.”
Russell and teammate Chris Ortiz each added a 1-yard scoring plunge.
Raylen Carter tallied two of the three East Union touchdowns — one on a 28-yard pass from JoJo Espinosa and the other on an electrifying kickoff return in the fourth quarter. Espinosa capped the night’s scoring with a 1-yard quarterback sneak with 2:33 left in the game.
According to Lancers coach Willie Herrera in the end it was Manteca’s air superiority that was the difference in the game.
“They aired it out and we didn’t stop it,” Herrera said. “That was the bottom line.
“We learned a lot this season about a lot of guys’ character. That is what football is — a character-revealer. Our motto in our program is to compete with class and courage and character is associated with that and difficult times reveal what you are made of. Our guys are better men today than they were when we first started.”
The loss ends East Union’s season, but Manteca will compete in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs. The Buffaloes will find out on Sunday if they are a top four seed and be awarded a bye or if they are seeded fifth or below they will play next Friday.
Manteca 6 8 14 12 – 40
East Union 0 0 7 14 – 21
M—Jacob DeJesus 69 pass from Ryan Ward (kick failed), 1:47.
M—DeJesus 38 punt return (Trabron Russell run), 11:07.
E—Raylen Carter 28 pass from JoJo Espinosa (Cameron Torres kick), 7:27.
M—Jorge Cedano 7 pass from Ward (Kevin Thornburg kick), 4:45.
M—Russell 7 run (Thornburg kick), 1:00.
M—Chris Ortiz 1 run (kick failed), 11:37.
E—Raylen Carter 85 kickoff return (Alex Alexander run), 11:24.
M—Russell 1 run (pass failed), 8:31.
E—Espinosa 1 run (pass failed), 2:33.