The game that unfolded at Guss Schmiedt Field Friday night was anything but pretty.
Host Manteca High, still battle-bruised and wounded from its war with the Sonora Wildcats the week before, seemed to struggle with filling the gaps that their absent team captains left on both sides of the ball.
And Lathrop made the kind of on-field mistakes that one would expect from a young football program trying to gain its footing against one of the Valley Oak League’s perennial frontrunners.
In the end it was experience that won out with Manteca claiming a 34-18 victory to remain unbeaten as it sets its sights on what will undoubtedly be its toughest test to date – a showdown with the state-ranked Oakdale Mustangs at The Corral.
“We were fortunate tonight and we put ourselves in a position to win,” said Manteca head coach Eric Reis. “It was a strange week for us. We had a lot of guys out and we didn’t have any school – it was kind of a funky week.
“But they had to deal with the same things. My hat goes off to them because they played a great game tonight. We have to go back to school and back to work, watch the film and just move on from there.”
Neither team was able to find the end zone in the game’s first quarter despite a turnover from each team that gave the other prime field position for a scoring opportunity.
Manteca (5-0, 8-0) managed to score first on a drive in the second quarter when Danny Gouveia scampered in from 9 yards out. He set up the scoring opportunity with a 34-yard dash the play before.
Not to be outdone, Lathrop (0-5, 1-7) immediately answered back when Javaun Seldon-Young took the ensuing kickoff and ran straight into Manteca’s kickoff unit – bouncing back 5 yards in the process. That gave him enough space to find a seam and make it through for an 85-yard touchdown return.
Gouveia would score twice more in the game – once on a fumble return and again on an offensive dash to start the second half. Fellow running back Eddie Smith also finished with a pair of scores for the Buffaloes.
Running back Cameron Harvey, who injured his leg last week against Sonora, was one of five Manteca starters who did not play.
While Manteca’s offense had managed to put the team into a comfortable position, Lathrop head coach Jesse Rodriguez said he was pleased to see the way his team battled until the final whistle was blown.
With just over four minutes to play in the game, Lathrop quarterback Elijah Cash managed to cap off what was an inconsistent night with an 18-yard touchdown strike to Christian Pena. It was a play that Rodriguez said was good for Cash and the morale of the team.
“You can’t give a good team like Manteca points and opportunities like that and then come back and expect to win,” Rodriguez said. “It’s the little things that make a big difference, and tonight we saw a team that does the little things. As a program that’s where we want to be.
“But I’m happy that we played hard tonight and we battled hard in the second half. We’ve got to shore up some of the mistakes but we’re getting there. They’re just growing pains.”