The third time was the charm for Eric Reis and his Manteca High football team.
And it was a rout: No. 4 Buffaloes 49, No. 13 Vanden 14.
Manteca (9-2) wasted little time in distancing itself from the Vikings (6-5) in this Sac-Joaquin Section Division III opener Friday night and scored the game’s first 35 points.
While advancing to the next round was of the utmost importance, it was a big win for Reis, who has had to endure two tough losses to Vanden over his 13-year career. In 2002, Manteca was coming off a SJS Division II title run, was ranked No. 1 in the state and hadn’t been beaten since 2000 when Reis took over the program. Vanden slowed the Buffaloes’ roll 12-0 in a nonleague contest.
Then came 2010. Vanden, the No. 16 seed, marched onto Guss Schmiedt Field and busted up top-seeded Manteca 55-22 in the biggest first-round upset in SJS postseason history.
“It feels awesome. Big win for the program,” Reis said. “Vanden, as we saw tonight, has talented athletes and our kids stepped up to the challenge. It’s like we told them, this team has owned us. We wanted to make sure it didn’t happen tonight.”
Not even close.
The Buffaloes had time-consuming drives mixed in with big plays in piling up 533 yards of offense against Vanden’s 231. The margin of victory could have been wider, but Manteca turned the ball over on downs inside Vanden’s 30 on successive drives in the second half.
Hector Soto rushed 15 times for 121 yards and three touchdowns and was even on the receiving end of a 42-yard gain through the air. Lechi Nkwocha added 111 yards and a score on 11 carries. Dakarai Charles completed 7 of 10 passes for 206 yards (all in the first half) and three total touchdowns (one passing, two rushing).
“We knew what they were going to do offensively, we just couldn’t stop their run,” Vanden co-coach Larry Hogue said. “We knew they were a run-heavy team. They did throw some passes; we had guys there (we) just didn’t make plays. We expected their offense to do what they did because they’re a good offense.”
Manteca took advantage of Vanden’s fast and aggressive defense led by 5-foot-9, 190-pound lineman Anthony Hopson, who recorded his 16th sack of the season Friday. Charles and the Manteca offense drew six offsides penalties, starting with their first play from scrimmage. Soto rambled 38 yards on the next play and then bulled his way into the end zone from 2 yards out for Manteca’s first points with 8:28 to go in the first quarter.
“We knew coming in they were going to try and time our snap count, so we had to go with different counts to catch them off guard,” Charles said. “Once they didn’t know what we were going to do we attacked.”
The Buffaloes also capitalized on Vanden’s concentration on the run game. With the Vikings putting nine in the box and their safety not far behind, Manteca showed that it could also do damage on the outside.
“We have more than just inside runs; we have speed just like they do,” Charles said. “When they packed the box we just had to the outside and it worked.”
Enter Luis Reyes.
Manteca used its fastest player on three sweep plays for 19 yards, but it was his game-breaking ability downfield that broke Vanden’s backs. Though he only had two catches, they were on third-and-long situations and went for big gains.
On the first play of the second quarter, the Buffaloes were pinned back on their own 10-yard line on third-and-11 when the elusive Charles, evading Vanden pass rushers in the process, found him down the left sideline near the 40. Reyes caught the pass on the run and kept running before he was stopped on the 3-yard line. The 87-yard pass play set up Soto’s 3-yard touchdown to make it 21-0.
Later in the same period, Reyes beat 6-4 Vanden safety Tony Terry III for a 53-yard catch on third-and-10. Three plays later, Lechi Nkwocha broke through the goal line behind Manteca’s powerful offensive line with 1:46 left in the half.
Manteca 35, Vanden 0. Game, set, match.
Reyes also had 41- and 28-yard punt returns that were negated by penalties, but him being such a threat with the ball in his hands was key to the win.
“A big part (of the offense) was Luis Reyes,” Reis said. “His ability to beat cover-zero coverage was humungous. And that was probably the difference with this team than some of the ones (that faced Vanden) in the past was that back then we tried to keep hammering it out, whereas tonight we were able to make some of those big plays.”
The defense also came up with big plays against Vanden’s spread attack. Ronaldo Tijero, who caught a 3-yard touchdown pass for the Buffaloes’ second score, and Marcus Rivas each had an interception. Outside linebacker Darrion Kitson rung up a pair of sacks. Defensive end Javaun Dunn nearly had a safety when he sacked QB Jadon Brisendine (13 of 26, 190 yards), who fumbled the ball in the end zone but had it recovered by lineman Jose Ochoa on the 1.
The Manteca defense held 1,000-yard rusher Isaiah Hamilton to 41 yards on 11 carries, though he did score both of Vanden’s touchdowns on 21- and 67-yard receptions late in the second and third quarters, respectively.
“Defense played well,” Reis said. “They have some dudes out there. We’ve played well against some spread teams like Enochs and Sierra.”
Manteca will see another next week in the quarterfinals, be it No. 5 Sacramento or No. 12 Christian Brothers, who face off today. If it’s Sac, it will be a rematch of last year’s 2013 Division III championship game won by the Buffaloes, 49-6.
“I know we’ll see another good spread team next week,” Reis said. “Christian Brothers or Sac High, either way those guys can sling it real well.”