Trabron Russell and Manteca’s ground attack have hit their stride, and just in time for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
The second-seeded Buffaloes (8-2) open Division III action tonight against No. 15 Rio Americano (6-4) of Sacramento.
Manteca relied on the pass early in the season when the schedule included high-caliber teams — Valley Christian, Central Catholic and Oakdale — with run-stuffing defenses. A committee of backs was used to try and get balance things out, but even with an experienced and massive offensive line no one could get untracked — odd for a traditionally run-first program.
Enter Russell, a 5-foot-9, 160-pound sophomore. He broke loose for his first 100-yard game at the varsity level in a 50-0 win over Lathrop in Week 5, and after the Buffaloes’ loss in Oakdale the following week they took advantage of a more forgiving stretch in the schedule.
They blew out their final four opponents in Valley Oak League play and looked to establish the ground game in the process. Russell broke out again for 132 yards and three touchdowns against Weston Ranch, tallied touchdowns on his only two carries at Sierra, then produced season-highs 15 carries, 212 yards and three scores in last week’s regular-season finale with East Union.
Russell now leads all Manteca rushers with over 600 yards at nearly 10 per carry to go with 13 touchdowns.
“For him it was about confidence,” Reis said. “Being a sophomore call-up you wonder, ‘can I handle this level?’ Now he hits the hole so hard. He gets it and goes, whereas he used to think about it. He’s a very talented kid and his confidence has dramatically changed since early in the year. You expect a younger kid to get better, and it’s perfect timing for us, for sure.”
An unsung hero in the backfield is Michael Frisby, more of a physical runner at 5-10, 200 pounds. There were high hopes for him as a tailback in the lower levels, but his development was stunted by separate ACL injuries to both knees.
Frisby (154 yards, two TDs) now starts at fullback, paving the way for the younger Russell while also providing protection for quarterback Gino Campiotti.
“Mike was a star tailback way back when, but the two ACLs on both knees changed him,” Reis said. “I’m just excited he gets to keep playing in high school after experiencing that physical and mental torment.”
Manteca put together its most balanced effort in a 46-17 win over East Union, and the Buffs will look to keep it going against Rio Americano. The two teams share one common opponent in Capital Athletic League champion Christian Brothers, the No. 3 seed in Division III. The Raiders lost to Christian Brothers 51-22 in a league game, while Manteca needed a late comeback and two-point conversion to sneak past the Falcons, 36-35.
Max Davis leads Rio’s spread/pistol offense, and Reis likens him to the quarterback his Buffaloes just faced. East Union’s JoJo Espinosa engineered two impressive scoring drives against Manteca, throwing for 151 yards and rushing for 84.
“Unfortunately for us, they have a quarterback who is a lot like JoJo,” Reis said. “He is accurate as a passer but also pretty athletic. When he sees a crack he’s going for it, so that’s something we’re looking for because those were some of the same things we gave up last week.”
Here’s a look at other postseason openers for area teams:
East Union (7-3) at Patterson (9-1): The 13th-seeded Lancers will again have their hands full defensively.
They’re up against a prolific Patterson offense that averages 48.7 points and more than 500 yards per game. The No. 4 Tigers were not challenged in their perfect run through the Western Athletic Conference, including a 47-14 drubbing of 9-1 Los Banos, the No. 6 seed in the bracket. They were well tested in the first month of the season when they beat Palo Alto and Modesto and lost to Downey, 74-49.
Impressive QB Gabe Oliva-Sanchez has completed 68.2 passes for 2,224 yards and 32 touchdowns against just three interceptions. He’s also Patterson’s leading rusher with 854 yards (10.3 per carry) and four scores. His top target is 6-3 receiver James Perez (917 yards, 17 TDs).
Ripon (7-3) at Calaveras (9-1): Seeded seventh in the loaded eight-team bracket, the Indians will carry a chip on their shoulders Friday as they look to knock off No. 2 Calaveras.
Calaveras took second in the Mother Lode League with its lone loss coming to top-seeded Sonora, 59-50. Calaveras has already met two of the three tri-champions of the Trans-Valley League, routing Modesto Christian 42-7 after holding off Escalon 28-14 both on the road.
Ripon’s heartbreaking 42-41 loss to Modesto Christian helped lead to the three-way split in the TVL but followed with its most impressive win of the season against Escalon, 32-14. The Indians have also played Sonora, losing, 48-33.
Calaveras brings a punishing ground attack led by Tanner Joses (855 yards, 10 TDs) but can also air it out to 6-foot wide out Logan Arledge (485 yards, six TDs).