Manteca High has been at its best in the second half of its big games this season, while Sierra tends to struggle over the final 24 minutes.
That trend continued in Friday’s bitter duel between crosstown rivals at Guss Schmiedt Field, as the Buffaloes owned the second half in a 26-20 win that makes Eric Reis the program’s all-time winningest coach.
Manteca, which improves to 3-0 in the Valley Oak League and 6-0 overall, trailed 20-17 at halftime, but a defensive adjustment coupled with its dominant running game on offense was the difference.
Manteca avenged 2008 and 09 losses to Sierra and stretched its all-time series lead to 11-5.
“The only thing I can say is that they dominated in the trenches,” Sierra coach Jeff Harbison said. “This is a testament that we need to do a better job in the offseason of getting in the weight room.”
Manteca shut down Sierra’s spread offense and screen-passing attack in the second half by rushing just two linemen and dropping nine defenders back in coverage.
Anthony Perea, in his first start as Sierra’s quarterback, completed 10 of 12 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns (one rushing) in the first half. He finished 13-of-23 for 196 yards.
The Manteca defense allowed just three first downs and 31 yards from scrimmage over the final two stanzas, as Sierra punted four times, had possession for 7 minutes, 48 seconds and got no further than its own 48.
Most of Sierra’s 94 overall rushing yards came on Anthony Cota’s 82-yard touchdown jaunt late in the first quarter, which tied it at 14 just 20 seconds before Manteca scored to jump ahead.
Manteca’s second-half defense was out of character for an aggressive group that frequently blitzes out of its 3-4 front.
“That was just for them,” Reis said. “It’s totally against our nature because we’re telling our ‘D’ linemen not to rush.
“It’s against everything we know and they know that. We just just broke from who we are and played a little soft for a change, and it worked.”
What worked from start to finish on the offensive side was feeding bell-cow back Robert Ladiges over and over and over again.
The 5-foot-9, 200-pound grinder carried the ball 50 times for 248 yards and scored all three of Manteca’s touchdowns. Place kicker Nick Gonzales was 2-for-3 on PATs while nailing field goals from 27 and 23 yards out to account for the rest of Manteca’ s points.
Gonzales’ 23-yarder tied the score 4 seconds into the fourth quarter. Ladiges later gave the Buffaloes the lead for good with a 1-yard plunge with 6:48 to go, and his first-down jaunt of 4 yards on third-and-3 set Manteca up on Sierra’s 9 to seal the victory on the game’s final drive.
Ladiges was also a factor at linebacker, as he recorded three tackles for losses and a deflected pass.
“I’m tired. Exhausted,” Ladiges said. “I’m going to sleep well tonight.
“It feels good to know when the defense knows what’s coming and they still can’t stop it,” he added.
Manteca QB Matt Burrows was quietly effective, finishing 9-of-15 for 148 yards and no interceptions. The Buffaloes’ two biggest gains through the air led to their two second-half scores: a 38-yarder to tight end Jesse Smith, who beat two Sierra defensive backs in the air to make the grab; and a 22-yarder to Michael Timmins (4 receptions, 53 yards), who made a terrific two-handed grab with both arms fully extended.
After the game it was Reis’ turn to bask in the spotlight. The eighth-year head coach, who previously served as an assistant for Sierra, is now 77-19-2.
The man he surpassed, Walker Vick (76-42-4, 1969-80), met Reis near midfield, as the two shared a tearful embrace.
“I’ve been blessed with such a great wife and family, an administration, a coaching staff and players that support me,” Reis said. “It’s been a dream for me to come back to Manteca High, my alma mater, and to beat one of our biggest rivals and go 6-0 makes it a huge, huge night. It’s very humbling.”