Manteca High football coach Eris Reis is on the cusp win No. 100 in a decorated coaching career that has spanned 12 seasons at his alma mater.
But to reach that milestone tonight, Reis will have to do what he’s never done before – scratch out a victory at The Corral, Oakdale High’s steel-trap stadium.
The Mustangs, the six-time defending Valley Oak League champions, haven’t lost many at home, and they certainly don’t lose to the Buffaloes.
How’s this for home-field advantage: Oakdale is 54-5 at home since 2004 and 4-0 against Manteca.
When asked what it would take to escape The Corral with a win tonight, Reis dead-panned: “I never done it, so I’m not sure.
“You want to be in a big game, and when you’re there, you know it’s a big game,” he later added. “It has the smell … a certain aroma. You see the big side of their stands.”
For Manteca (2-0, 4-1), the terms are clear: The Valley Oak League title it covets resides in Oakdale.
The Buffaloes have won three straight games by rout since a heart-breaking overtime loss to once-beaten Santa Clara Wilcox, but this will be no pushover. Oakdale is 58-6 in the VOL in the last nine-plus seasons with seven league titles.
Tonight, the stakes are high.
“This is a big game. If we win, it makes every game after it bigger and bigger,” Reis said. “This game controls your destiny. To win the VOL championship, you have to go through Oakdale. … Our guys are excited. They realize that if you want to win it, you have to beat this team. They’re cherishing that chance; they’re cherishing the opportunity.”
Since beginning the season with back-to-back losses to Turlock and Paradise by a combined two points, the Mustangs have won three straight by 20 or more.
Oakdale (2-0, 3-2) graduated much of the talent that carried the team to a Northern California championship and a CIF State Bowl berth in December.
However, graduation has created opportunity for its young talent. Oakdale has just 14 seniors on its 43-man roster.
“I think we’re a lot better than Manteca wanted us to be at this point in the year,” Oakdale head coach Trent Merzon told The Oakdale Leader following last week’s 62-12 victory at Weston Ranch.
“Manteca’s program has been waiting for this year’s team to become seniors for a couple years and they think that they’re going to be pretty special. Our kids are excited about the opportunity.”
Reis has been impressed by the energy and athleticism he’s seen on film. These Mustangs run the same system with the same efficiency, utilizing smaller, quicker players.
“They’re flying to the ball. It’s amazing to think they lost everybody and they’re still that good,” Reis said. “It’s scary. They’re young but talented, and they run that system very, very well.
“That offense is so good. We have to control the line of scrimmage. We can’t just let them run us over.”
With twin 300-pound linemen Isaac McClain and Billy Sharmoug, Manteca will have a considerable size advantage on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
The Mustangs will counter with their speed, which has proven just as effective in league wins over East Union and Weston Ranch.
Last week, Oakdale rushed for 422 yards in a 62-12 win over the Cougars, a game shortened by a running clock in the fourth quarter.
“We’ll definitely have the size on them, but they’ll have the quickness,” Reis said. “They’ll rely on that quickness. For us to win, though, we’ll have to use (our size) to our advantage.”
Defensively, Oakdale may be Manteca’s toughest test yet because of their versatility in the wing-T.
Five different players carried the ball in last week’s win. Juniors Max Stevens and Brock Whiting tied for the team lead with nine carries, while sophomore Darus Nelson provided the explosion outside with 162 yards on just eight touches.
Merzon also showcased two quarterbacks: Dillon Tamburrino and sophomore Adam Olsen, who returned from injury.
“When (Olsen) is at quarterback, he’s an athlete and a thrower. He brings a whole new dimension,” Reis said. “The other guy is a classic Wing-T quarterback.
“I’m not sure what they’ll come up with. We have to prepare for both. We’re getting ready for anything.”
Manteca will give Oakdale its own fits with balanced attack led by quarterback Joe Menzel and running back Alex Laurel.
Through five games, the Buffaloes have shared the limelight.
Menzel was the hero in last week’s 56-7 win over Lathrop, throwing five first-half touchdowns. Two of those tosses were to 6-foot-6 tight end Michael Hatfield.
In their league opener against Sonora, Laurel rushed for nearly 200 yards and scored three touchdowns.
In a 42-7 win at Los Banos, Jacob LeDon scored three times.
“It’s going to be a chess match. What can we do?” Reis said. “That’s the one thing that Joe gives us that we haven’t had in awhile. We have the ability to throw the ball and do it well.”