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Defending D-III champs snap 3-game skid in convincing fashion
Bulletin sports fall 2021
Manteca running back K.P. MacDannald is chased by Zuri Franklin (10) and the rest of the Sacramento defense. - photo by Wayne Thallander


Sacramento 0 7 7 0 — 14

Manteca 21 19 14 0 — 54


First quarter

M — Blake Nichelson 47 run (Eduardo Zambrano kick)

M — Nichelson 9 run (Zambrano kick), 5:01.

M — K.P. MacDannald 21 run (Zambrano kick), 0:52.


Second quarter

S — Naaman Branyan 23 run (Krishtion Delgado kick)

M — Nichelson 41 run (Zambrano kick), 7:30.

M — MacDannald 1 run (kick missed), 2:25.

M — Zion Allen 14 pass from Garrison Reis (run failed), 0:00.


Third quarter

S — Elijah Hardiman 33 run (Delgado kick)

M — Nichelson 14 run (Zambrano kick) 7:02.

M — Hudson Wyatt 3 run (Zambrano kick), 1:40.

Blake Nichelson’s ankle is fine, and so are the rest of the Buffaloes.

Manteca erased any doubt Friday, slamming sixth-seeded Sacramento 54-14 in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III quarterfinals after backing into the postseason with its first three-game skid in 18 years.

“We just wanted to scream out that Manteca is back,” Manteca safety Dominic Alvarez said. “We’re back on the right track.”

It was the No. 3 Buffaloes’ most complete effort against a quality opponent since the first month of the season when they began to lose key players to injuries. Manteca (8-3) lost its regular-season finale at Oakdale 28-0 with its two leading rushers — Lyon Colon and Nichelson — out with sprained ankles.

Colon suited up Friday but was given another week to heal. The Buffs had the luxury to do so with the return of Nichelson and addition of junior varsity call-up K.P. MacDannald.

Manteca had its way offensively, piling up 474 of its 515 yards on the ground. Up next for the defending Division III champion is a semifinal trip to second-seeded Lincoln (8-2) of Placer County, which battled back from a late two-score deficit to win 28-21 and spoil No. 7 Christian Brothers’ upset bid.

“That was the real Buffaloes,” Manteca coach Mark Varnum said. “When you have 80% of your offense in street clothes on the sideline you’re going to have a hard time. We got our dudes back and we’re healthy.

“Blake was Blake, but that was Blake at 85%. With the addition of K.P., that kid runs so hard and it’s a scary, scary combination. Hopefully we can get Lyon back next week.”

It didn’t take long for Nichelson to get back into the groove, as he scored on a 47-yard run on the Buffaloes’ first play from scrimmage. He finished with 204 yards and four touchdowns on 15 carries and did not re-enter the game after his 14-yard scoring scamper expanded the lead to 47-14 with 7:02 left in the third quarter.

Nichelson, a highly-recruited two-way standout, was not used defensively at outside linebacker. He went into the final week of the regular season as the leading scorer in the state but has certainly made up for some lost time with his latest effort.

“It feels good to be back, first of all,” Nichelson said. “We just wanted to come out and play our game. We got the (win), and every one played well.”

MacDannald impressed in his varsity debut, rushing 16 times for 157 yards and two TDs. He put all of his abilities on display in the final minute of the opening period when he broke three tackles along the right sideline en route to a 21-yard score that made it 21-0.

The wiry 6-foot sophomore came up big again at the end of the half. Manteca was on its own 35 with 14 seconds remaining when MacDannald broke a 51-yard run. That gave the Buffs an opportunity to pad their lead, and they took advantage by converting on a trick play. Sophomore tight end Garrison Reis took a handoff from Hudson Wyatt (2 for 2, 27 yards) and lofted a 14-yard toss to Zion Allen in the end zone with no time left. Reis was the team’s starting QB for the first five weeks of the season.

As for MacDannald, he was not completely pleased with his first showing with the big boys. He lost a fumble on Manteca’s first drive of the second half, and Sacramento defensive back Elijah Hardiman returned it 33 yards for a touchdown.

“I feel I did alright,” MacDannald said. “There’s a lot that I can still improve on, obviously I had the fumble. A little but of nerves at first, but once I got to hitting it just kind of went away and I was in my element and I did my thing.”

Fullback Marcus Brennan added 48 yards on eight carries and also had a 20-yard catch. Back-up tailback Manuel Gutierrez had four carries and 43 yards.

Although Nichelson and Colon (cornerback) were not featured on the defense, the Buffs welcomed the return of sophomore middle linebacker Tommy Perea who missed seven games with a knee injury. Stout do start the season, Manteca surrendered an average of 47.3 points in its three successive defeats to Central Catholic, Kimball and Oakdale.

On Friday, Manteca locked down an explosive spread offense that has a 2,000-yard passer in Naaman Branyan and 2,000-yard rusher in sophomore Lamar Radcliffe. The Dragons (9-3) were held to 185 yards, as Branyan completed just five of 16 passes for 42 yards while Radcliffe did their most damage with 101 yards on 19 rushes. Branyan tallied the lone touchdown for Sac’s attack, scrambling 23 yards to close his team in 21-7 early in the second quarter.

Cornerback Trey Moreland came up with Manteca’s lone turnover of the night, recovering a fumble in the fourth quarter. Defensive end Cris Ray, outside linebacker Cole Ramsey and defensive back Dylan Deprater each dropped Branyan for a sack.

“They played their butts off for Coach (Rick) James,” Varnum said, referencing his defensive coordinator. “They owed him one.”