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Buffs draw Menlo-Atherton
MHS football file photo for MON
Manteca High head coach Eric Reis gets doused by iced water in celebration of the Buffaloes Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship win over Placer on Nov. 26. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

Undefeated Northern Section powerhouse Sutter (13-0), Central Section Division II champion Sanger (13-0) and perennial Santa Rosa-based contender Cardinal Newman (12-1) were thought to be among the likely opponents for Manteca in a California Interscholastic Federation State Northern California Regional Bowl Game.

Turns out the Buffaloes (12-1) won’t see any of them.

Manteca coach Eric Reis was surprised at his team’s pairing with Menlo-Atherton (11-2), which hosts the Division III-AA game this Friday. The winner plays the SoCal Division III-AA champion — Mater Dei Catholic (12-1) of Chula Vista or Paraclete (10-4) of Lancaster — for a state title on Saturday, Dec. 17 at a site yet to be determined. The regional games are scheduled to kick off at 7:30 p.m.

“It was a weird deal,” Reis said. “We never heard Menlo being a possibility from anyone anywhere. (On Saturday) we were hearing it was going to be Sanger, Cardinal Newman or maybe Sutter. 

“We knew we were going to play someone good and we’re getting the opportunity to do that on the road in a hostile environment. To get this far is something (special), but these guys want to push it a little bit further.”

The CIF announced its 26 pairings Sunday afternoon. Teams are placed into four-team brackets – only the Open Division has one game — according to competitive equity instead of enrollment, as had been the case in past seasons.

Nationally-recognized De La Salle (11-1) of Concord will represent the North in the Open Division and will face off with SoCal juggernaut St. John Bosco (12-2) of Bellflower at Sacramento State’s Hornet Stadium on Dec. 17.  Other games of note:

uSac-Joaquin Section Division III champion Oakdale (12-2) will host Sutter (13-0) in the Division 3-A NorCal Bowl Game. Manteca held off Oakdale 30-22 in the regular season, but they ended up part of a three-way share of the Valley Oak League title with Central Catholic. Sutter routed Lassen in the NS Division III title game 42-7 but had an impressive string of seven shutouts end. Sutter is familiar with Manteca-area teams having beaten Ripon twice in the last three years and lost to Sierra in the 2015 NorCal Division IV-A Bowl. 

uManteca isn’t the only San Joaquin County school going bowling. St. Mary’s (13-1) of Stockton will host Freedom (11-1) of Oakley in the Division I-AA NorCal Bowl. Brookside Chrisitan (9-4), another Stockton school, travels to St. Patrick-St. Vincent (11-3) in Vallejo on Satuday for the Division VI-A NorCal Bowl.

For Manteca, it will be the second NorCal Bowl appearance for the program. The Buffaloes last did it in 2013 after winning the SJS Division III banner, earning a berth to the Division II NorCal Regional Bowl Game where Enterprise of Redding prevailed, 27-21.

They should be well rested for this one. They claimed the SJS Division IV championship on Nov. 26, racing past Placer, 50-28. Manteca has won six straight since losing to four-time state champion Central Catholic 32-14 on Oct. 14.

Menlo-Atherton is on an absolute tear since dropping its first two games to parochial powers Bellarmine Prep and Marin Catholic. The Bears have won 11 straight since, a march that included Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division and Central Coast Section Open Division I championships. They were able to avenge one of those losses in the postseason, shutting down Bellarmine 21-0 before blanking Milpitas 17-0 in the title game on Nov. 25.

“If you can beat a big-time parochial power like Bellarmine and shut them out, you’re a pretty good team,” Reis said. “It will obviously be a major challenge, for sure.”

“Our kids are excited for the opportunity. They want to do what no other Manteca High team has done before, so they’ll be fired up, for sure.”