Manteca High’s football team is playing a 14th game for the first time ever.
Win that, and the opportunity to play No. 15 and 16 become possible.
The Buffaloes (12-1) are going after their fourth Sac-Joaquin Section championship this Friday when they take on fifth-seeded Sacramento (11-2) in the Division III finals at Lincoln High of Stockton. But there is now more at stake since No. 2 Manteca last garnered section banners in 2005 and ’06.
The Buffs are in the running for one of two bids for the state’s Division II NorCal Bowl Game, but only section champions are considered.
Thanks to its 45-36 semifinal win over well-regarded Inderkum, Manteca was catapulted into the top five of Cal-Hi Sports’ Division II North Bowl rankings, jumping from seventh to the No. 4 spot.
After all section championships are completed, section commissioners will vote on what is essentially the final four — two in the North, two in the South — of the state playoffs. The Open Division will comprise of teams that section commissioners deem to be the four best in the state, while Divisions I-IV will be enrollment based.
Manteca head coach Eric Reis isn’t thinking that far ahead just yet, not with a talented Sacramento team and its dangerous spread offense to prepare for. But he, of course, believes his team’s resume stacks up well with other NorCal contenders despite its one loss.
The bottom line for now is this: win Friday, and leave the rest up to the commissioners. “Selection Sunday” is on Dec. 8 at the StubHub Center in Carson.
“We can’t control what they do, but I think we played some pretty good teams,” Reis said. “You go for those things (like NorCal and state titles), but to even come close is an honor.”
Valley Oak League rival Oakdale was awarded a NorCal bid in 2012 and proved worthy of it by knocking off Clayton Valley, 27-24.
Clayton Valley was favored by Cal-Hi Sports to make a return appearance to the NorCal Bowl but was upset by Miramonte (Orinda) in the North Coast Section Division II semifinals.
Casa Grande (Petaluma) and Enterprise (Redding) are two unbeatens that head Cal-Hi Sports’ Division II North rankings. Enterprise of the Northern Section is the only team listed that already has its requisite section title. Casa Grande meets fifth-ranked Miramonte (11-2) on Saturday for the NCS Division II title.
Ranked third is Mountain View juggernaut St. Francis. The Lancers’ record (currently 9-3) and fourth-place finish in the West Catholic Athletic League — the most competitive conference in the Central Coast Section — will be overlooked because of their strength of schedule.
Manteca’s best bet would be for both Casa Grande and St. Francis to lose their section title games.
A St. Francis loss to 9-3 Los Gatos in the CCS Division II final would be huge for the Buffaloes, whose lone loss, a 28-27 setback in overtime, was to Wilcox (9-2) of Santa Clara. Wilcox blasted Los Gatos 42-7 en route to earning a three-way piece of the De Anza championship.
“What kind of hurt us was Wilcox going up in the Open Division,” Reis said.
The CCS considered Wilcox to be one of its eight best teams and hence placed the Chargers in its Open Division. That allowed St. Francis to compete in the far less competitive Division II bracket. Wilcox opened with a 31-19 loss to powerhouse Bellarmine.
Casa Grande has wins over name opponents such as Cardinal Newman and Montgomery (twice). Its narrow 12-7 win over a 1-9 Heritage team may be a head scratcher, but Heritage played several other top NCS teams tough.
Manteca and Enterprise share a like opponent in Oakdale. Enterprise escaped The Corral, where the Mustangs are tough to beat, with a 23-22 victory that came down to a failed two-point conversion with less than a minute to play. Manteca beat them more decisively, 35-20, five weeks later.
Enterprise went on to dominate other elite NS teams such as West Valley, Central Valley, Paradise and Sutter. The Hornets’ most competitive game after Oakdale came from 5-7 Chico, which fell short, 56-48.
Manteca has been on a roll since its loss to Wilcox, but it wasn’t until their commanding win over Inderkum that the Buffaloes were considered a legitimate NorCal contender. They led by 25 points with 6:22 to go before the Tigers made a late charge to make it look respectable.
Would that be enough to convince the powers that be?
“Who knows?” Reis said. “Just to be considered is pretty cool.”
To be considered is all the Buffaloes can control for now.