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Sams carries Los Banos with 337 yards, three touchdowns
Mantecas Elijah Cooper (40) chases down Los Banos kick returner Daeton West during the first half of Fridays nonconference game at Guss Schmiedt Field. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Manteca High took Los Banos’ best punch early, wobbled to its feet and for a short time turned the tide in this battle of tradition-rich heavyweights Friday at Guss Schmiedt Field.

Problem: Los Banos kept punching, digging to the body with heavy doses of star running back James Sams who bulled his way to 337 yards and three touchdowns on 49 carries. 

The Buffaloes stumbled to a 42-28 defeat.

“We could not stop him,” Reis said of the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Sams. “He’s the real deal.”

The Tigers, now 3-0, return nine talented starters from last year’s Western Athletic Conference championship squad, but Sams clearly is what makes their powerful attack go.

“Our plan all week long was to get him the football and hopefully they loosen up a little bit and we can throw the ball behind it,” Los Banos coach Dustin Caropreso said. “We just kept running. Our line did a decent job of (creating) some holes, but you only have to give him a small lane to take off. It makes my job easy.”

Los Banos was supposed to have the big-play offense in this fight, one that picks up yardage in huge chunks and touchdowns in a flash.

Manteca is Manteca — run between the tackles, wear down the defense and munch minutes off the clock.

Roles were reversed from the opening bell.

Sams racked up his first 74 yards on the game’s first drive, which was capped by his 5-yard jaunt up the middle. Los Banos followed that up with an 11-play, 84-yard scoring drive that lasted nearly 5 minutes. Fullback Bailey Rodriguez made it 14-0 with his 3-yard run.

Manteca (1-1) was sparked by Brandon Dabney’s 37-yard kickoff return and used a little razzle-dazzle — a 26-yard halfback pass from Sal Pena to T.J. Galdos — to get on board on the first play of the second quarter.

Manteca’s defense then held Los Banos to two straight four-and-out series, the first of which was costly for the Buffaloes — standout two-way lineman Billy Sharmoug went down with a left ankle injury and never returned.

Field position became an issue on Manteca’s ensuing drive, facing third-and-13 from its own 10. That was when Eddie Smith recorded the Buffaloes’ biggest play from scrimmage, a 63-yard run that spoiled by Delvonte Moore’s impressive strip from behind and fumble recovery on Los Banos’ 27. Both players ended up with the ball, but Los Banos was awarded the possession.

“That was huge right there,” Reis said. “I don’t think they’re necessarily the better team, but there were a few things here and there that if maybe they went our way we’d have a different game.”

After the defense came through with another four-down stop, the offense needed just two plays to tie it. Galdos took a short pass from Ryan Fox (4 of 7, 76 yards) and went 44 yards down to the Los Banos 4 with help from a nice downfield block from Claudio Santos. Smith forced his way into the end zone on the next play.

The Tigers answered with a 12-play drive lasting 5:01, as quarterback Chris Corpuz ran it in from 5 yards out on a keeper. The point-after kick failed, but they led 20-14 at halftime.

Manteca got another lift from a big play to start the second half. Alex Laurel took the kickoff and ran it back 93 yards for a score. Matt Kuhnlenz’ PAT gave the Buffaloes their only lead of the game, 21-20.

The Los Banos defense, however, clamped down in the second half. After giving up over 250 rushing yards in each of their first two nonleague games, the Tigers limited Manteca to just 99 yards on the ground — 98 coming in the first half. Smith ran it eight times for 83 yards, but most of that came on one play.

“Our defensive coaches put a lot of effort in this one to stop them,” Caropreso said. “That’s a good football team. They’re going to line up and come right at you, and our defense just showed up tonight. They busted their (backsides) off.”

Los Banos went on to score 22 unanswered points to put it out of reach. Manteca missed a 32-yard field goal during that stretch but found success in moving the ball through the air with strong-armed Joe Menzel (6 of 7, 120 yards) behind center.

Manteca’s Paul Paulino rounded out the final score with a 1-yard run.

“You tell your team this and that, and then you see what the higher echelon looks like,” Reis said. “I’m hoping this is going to help refocus us. That’s why we play these guys. I want to see where we’re at, and we obviously have a lot of work to get to that level.

“We showed some flashes of being pretty decent also, so we’ll go from there.”