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Buffs hold on to win 9th SJS banner
Nichelson's 6 TDs helps Manteca outlast Granite Bay's second-half surge
Granite Bay-Manteca football
Manteca coach Mark Varnum struts toward the field to begin celebrating with the rest of the team after getting doused by water at the end of the Buffaloes’ 51-48 win over Granite Bay in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II final Saturday at Sacramento City College. - photo by SEAN KAHLER

SACRAMENTO — It was a tale of two halves Saturday night in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II Championship game between Manteca and Granite Bay at Hughes Stadium.

The top-seeded Buffaloes ran away with the first half, and the No. 6 Grizzlies ran away with the final two quarters.

But when the final buzzer sounded, it was the Buffaloes who hung one for the heart-stopping 51-48 win and a berth in the California Interscholastic

Granite Bay-Manteca football
Manteca’s Blake Nichelson scores a touchdown in front of Granite Bay’s Isaiah Ene (24). - photo by SEAN KAHLER
Federation State Championships that begin next weekend.

“The first-half Manteca team this week and the second-half Manteca team last week were one of the best teams in the state,” Manteca coach Mark Varnum said. “We have to put four quarters together. I’m not going to dwell on it too much, but the bottom line is we are D-II section champs.

“We’re still playing and we’re going to hang another blue banner on the wall.”

That blue banner was inches away from slipping away. With 1:09 left in the game, McCade Long (19 of 26 passing, 288 yards, three touchdowns, interception) spotted Frank Cosano for a 10-yard touchdown pass to draw Granite Bay (9-5) within three points.

For the third time in the fourth quarter the Grizzlies then attempted an onside kick. Luis Rivera covered the first two for Manteca (11-1), so Granite Bay kicked away from Rivera on the third one and it almost worked. The Grizzly kickoff team was zeroed in on recovering the kick but did so too soon, being penalized for touching the ball before it traveled the required 10 yards. This gave the Buffaloes the ball and they kneeled the game out for the win.

“On the first one I was thinking I was locked in, ball awareness is all it is,” Rivera said. “I knew what was on the line so I just went up and grabbed the ball.

“On the second one my mind was more clear. I kind of knew what I was doing. It was kind of expected. I just ran up and got it.”

This was the third Section title in a row for Manteca, and the second consecutive one to go down to the wire. Last year’s 35-28 win over Valley Oak League rival Oakdale came down to the last play, a 50-yard toss into the end zone by the Mustangs that was off the mark.

Florida State commit Blake Nichelson continued to do it all for Manteca finishing with 29 carries, 225 yards, four touchdowns; three receptions, 75 yards, two touchdowns; an interception and seven tackles.

He scored three touchdowns in the game’s first eight minutes to spot the Buffaloes to a 21-0 lead, setting up one of those scores with an interception. His last score — a 1-yard plunge with 2:07 left in the game — was his 40th of the season and secured the win for Manteca.

“In the first half we really came out there, showed our game and smacked them in the mouth,” Nichelson said. “I feel like in the second half we let up a little bit, but we still won the game. They were a great team and they were a good challenge for us, but it is just great to be a Section champion.”

Hudson Wyatt was 5 of 6 passing for 113 yards for the Buffaloes, with touchdown passes of 27 and 39 yards to Nichelson, and 28 yards to Alijah Cota.

“This was amazing to help lead this team to another section title.” Wyatt said. “This is our second one in a row.

“We knew what it is like to play in a Section title game. We played a great first half, in the second half we kind of let up, but we got the win and that’s all that matters.”

Nichelson scored his first two touchdowns before the Grizzly offense ever touched the ball. Following his first on a run of 4 yards, Jayden Ceja recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. Nicholsen hauled in the 27-yard touchdown pass from Wyatt on the next play for a 14-0 lead.

“I was just trying to flow toward the ball,” Ceja said. “Then I saw the ball pop up and I dove on it.”

Nichelson and Cota stood out on both sides of the ball for Manteca. Cota tallied 99 yards on 16 carries and five tackles. Tommy Perea led the Buffaloes defense with nine tackles. James Dennis and Chris Chavez added seven stops.

“This feels great,” Perea said. “We put in a lot of hours in a lot of workouts, and it paid off in the end. We just didn’t want to lose this one. It was too special.”


Granite Bay 7 0 22 19 - 48

Manteca 21 8 8 14 – 51


First quarter

M – Blake Nichelson 4 run (Matt Kong kick), 8:03

M – Nichelson 27 pass from Hudson Wyatt (Kong kick), 7:49

M – Nichelson 8 run (Kong kick), 4:21

G – Joseph Cattolico 45 pass from McCade Long (David Freeman kick), 2:36


Second quarter

M – Alijah Cota 28 pass from Wyatt (Cota run). 8:32


Third quarter

G – Isaiah Ene 6 run (Freeman kick), 7:16

M – Nichelson 74 run (Bryson Davis run), 5:45

G – Carson Perry-Smith 33 pass from Long (Freeman kick), 2:52

G – Perry-Smith 36 pass from Long (Frank Cosano run), 2:23


Fourth quarter

M – Nichelson 39 pass from Wyatt (Davis run), 9:26

G – Carter Jackson 6 run (pass fail), 6:52

G – Ene 13 run (Freeman kick), 3:20

M – Nichelson 1 run (kick fail), 2:07

G – Cosano 10 pass from Long (kick fail), 1:09