American Canyon had given up just 112 points during a seven-game winning streak it carried into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III quarterfinal at Manteca’s Guss Schmiedt Field on Friday.
Propelled by big plays on special teams and defense early on, second-seeded Manteca scored more than half of that in a 62-32 win and did it with its top rusher sidelined with an injury.
Sophomore tailback Trabron Russell was on crutches nursing a sprained ankle sustained in the Buffaloes’ 62-21 thrashing of Rio Americano in their postseason opener. Quarterback Gino Campiotti picked up the slack and then some, rushing for a career-high 102 yards and five touchdowns on 13 carries. He also completed his first nine passes and finished 16 of 19 for 257 yards.
His final pass was for his only touchdown through the air, a 5-yard jump ball to Jorge Cedano (three receptions, 79 yards). The play started the running clock with 4:49 remaining and the Buffaloes (10-2) ahead, 62-26.
“My line played unbelievable,” Campiotti said. “They have some big dudes that are really good up front, but my line can match up with anybody. They worked their butts off all day, I barely got touched. I don’t want to call it easy, but it’s a lot easier when you have guys up front who can move people like that.”
Michael Frisby, normally the fullback, filled in admirably for Russell, adding 15 rushes for 73 yards and a touchdown. Frisby suffered ACL tears to both knees on separate occasions while playing at the lower levels, but the 5-foot-10, 200-pound grinder has looked like his old spry self of late.
“Frisby’s an animal,” Campiotti said. “He’s big and he can meet up with anybody. He’s a fun guy to play with and to watch. He’s such a hard worker that he deserves the carries that he got tonight. Tra’s been getting a little bit more of the load, but Frisby’s a workhorse. He was ready.”
The seventh-seeded Wolves (7-4) appeared ready at the start following their 80-mile trip from Napa County. They were able to convert on two third-and-long plays on the opening drive, the second one resulting in a 67-yard touchdown pass from LaVar Seay (7 of 14, 122 yards, two TDs; 31 yards rushing) to Erick Stewart.
Manteca answered with Campiotti’s 2-yard touchdown scamper set up by an 18-yard pass to sophomore call-up Dom Rea, and the first of two game-changing plays followed moments later.
On American Canyon’s third play of its next series, Manteca cornerback Matthew Ender intercepted a pass at the Wolves 38 and returned it for a pick-six.
“We were running our Cover 4 defense and I just stayed in my zone, stayed in my technique,” Ender said. “The ball came to me and I got a couple of blocks. I thought that was a turning point right there.”
Early in the second quarter, Manteca expanded its lead to 21-3. after Frisby’s 2-yard touchdown. The defense then forced a three-and-out, with Harvard-bound defensive end Justin Kakala — who dominated at the line of scrimmage all night — starting the drive with a sack.
That was when sophomore Jacob De Jesus (seven receptions, 56 yards) came through with an electrifying 73-yard punt return that gave the Buffaloes the early separation. Manteca led 34-20 at halftime.
“Obviously, when you give up points like that it hurts, but we were still only down two scores going into halftime,” American Canyon coach Mike Singer said. “At that point they hadn’t stopped us. Take those away it’s a 21-20 game. Then they came out, adjusted what they were doing and moved the ball right down the field on us.”
Manteca didn’t slow down to start the second half. Campiotti’s 1-yard plunge capped off a 13-play, 75-yard drive lasting 5 minutes, 11 seconds.
The Buffaloes’ defense came up big again in the fourth quarter. Linebacker Caden Ramsey forced a fumble on a sack, and lineman Noe Saldivar recovered it on the American Canyon 22 to set up Manteca’s final score of the game.
Manteca outgained the Wolves, 447-383. Kama Aalona led American Canyon with 121 yards and a touchdown on 11 rushes. AC’s Brenden Johnson (50 yards rushing, 41 receiving) capped the final score in the closing seconds with a 32-yard catch.
“We had a good week of practice,” Manteca coach Eric Reis said. “In practice we were so crisp. It’s one of those ones where I’m like, ‘Will it transfer over?’ and it did.
“I thought Gino did a great job of taking what was there tonight. He wasn’t trying to force stuff. He read the coverages and made the plays, plus his running and passing ability is very tough to defend. There are a lot of weapons. There’s not one guy to stop.”
The victory sets the stage for a much-anticipated rematch with No. 3 Christian Brothers, which warded off an upset against No. 11 Rio Linda, 30-21. This time, the Falcons visit Guss Schmeidt Field after the Buffaloes mounted an improbable late comeback for a thrilling 36-35 win at Sacramento City College.
“It’s going to be a phenomenal game, just like the last one, I’m sure,” Reis said.