The ride to the Valley Oak League season won’t be a smooth one for Manteca High.
Starting with Galt Friday, Manteca will embark on a pre-league schedule featuring two tradition-rich programs and another that appears to be on the rise.
The Buffaloes, who haven’t lost a season opener in the 2000s but has had some close calls, will find out just how good they really are before kicking off conference play Sept. 24.
“Week 1 always scares the heck out of me, because I’m not sure what to expect,” said Eric Reis, who will see Galt for the first time in his ninth year as Manteca’s head coach. “Every game means something, so our whole thinking is that we better play good teams now to have a chance in our league. What’s nice is that we’re going to see a variety of teams (in non-league).”
Tracy is coming off a San Joaquin Athletic Association championship coupled with a 10-0 regular-season finish, and Enochs of Modesto, in its fourth year at the varsity level, stunned VOL co-champion Sierra 35-25 last week.
But Manteca isn’t looking at any of those teams yet. There is much to worry about this Friday.
Galt, fresh off a 39-2 bludgeoning of Hughson in Week Zero, is loaded with seniors from last year’s 5-5 team that was decimated by injuries.
The opening of first-year varsity Liberty Ranch in Galt knocks the Warriors’ enrollment down to the Division III and IV range, so this might be a team Manteca, solidly entrenched in Division III, meets again down the road. Reis expects Galt to vie for a championship in the Sierra Valley Conference with potential to do some damage in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
“That wouldn’t be shocking,” Reis said. “They have a few guys that catch your eye, so that’s not far-fetched. They’ve been stacked up against some powerhouse teams over the years in the league they’re in, so they are not going to be intimidated by seeing us.”
Chief among the Warriors’ top returners is Haran Piggee, who was selected by NorCalPreps.com to the all-SJS preseason team and named the Oregon State Nike Camp’s most valuable running back.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the final four weeks of the 2009 season.
But Piggee — who is receiving interest from Boise State, Fresno State, Oregon State and UCLA — was able to showcase his big-play ability last week, rushing for 163 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. He also intercepted two passes.
Piggee was a state qualifier in track and field last spring as a long jumper.
“He has eye-popping athleticism — if he has a crack and runs through it he’s gone,” Reis said. “He also plays the game with a lot of passion and enthusiasm. You can tell he has a good time out there.”
Quarterback Ryan Cox was efficient against Hughson, competing eight of 11 passes for 96 yards and three scores.
The defense, led by 6 foot, 200-pound linebacker Donald Heath (team-high 101 tackles in 2009), returns eight starters from last year.
“They are eerily similar to us,” Reis said. “They run a 3-4 defense and run some fly sweep and Offset-I on offense. Sometimes it’s hard for our scout team to simulate our opponents, but this week it hasn’t been too difficult because they already run what we run.”
Beyer won an epic 41-35 shootout at East Union last season, as both teams combined for 41 points in the fourth quarter alone.
That ended up being Beyer’s only win of the season, and the Patriots’ losing streak was extended to 10 last Friday with their zero-week loss, 17-14, to small-school power Hilmar, which capitalized on five turnovers.
Like East Union, Beyer’s offensive success is contingent on the play of its quarterback. Justin Usiak (17-of-30, 236 yards, TD) kept the offense moving last week but threw four interceptions. Jacob Bringhurst (five receptions, 100 yards) was his top receiver with junior Kaden Cline (46 catches, 914 yards, nine TDs as a sophomore) suspended by the school for most of the season.
Beyer’s defense, which yielded 46 points per game in 2009, showed much improvement last week, holding Hilmar to just 69 yards rushing (2.4 per carry) and 97 passing.
The Timberwolves face another Division-I playoff team out of the Modesto Metro Conference after dropping a 35-25 loss to Enochs, which snapped their eight-game home winning streak. Davis is also smarting from defeat — a 35-0 drubbing by Patterson.
It’s tough to judge Davis at this point; are the Spartans that bad, or is Patterson just that good?
Sierra had to make do without sophomore running back Anthony Cota last week, and the offense struggled in the second half. The Manteca High transfer was forced to sit out because he was not yet cleared by the Sac-Joaquin Section, but he is good to go moving forward.
As rough as Sierra had it for three quarters (it scored all of its points in the second) vs. Enochs, Davis had even more trouble — fumbling five times and throwing three picks. Sierra’s chances improve if it can force Davis to rely on its passing game.
Davis is imposing in the trenches, with Remzee Fakhori (6-4, 280), John Lukins (6-3, 245) and Joey Hallam (6-0, 250) anchoring the line.