Manteca is presumed to be the 2016 Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV champion, and the postseason doesn’t kick off until 7 o’clock tonight.
Eric Reis has been on the losing end of soul-crushing upsets enough times to know better.
For the second straight week, the Buffaloes head coach is urging his players to be guarded in their optimism. Since Saturday night, when the section revealed Manteca (9-1) as the top seed of what is perceived to be a weak Division IV field, they’ve had to hear and read about how clear their path is to a SJS banner and CIF Northern California Regional Bowl Game. The Buffaloes welcome No. 8 Dixon (6-4) of the Golden Empire League.
Included in Division IV is defending champion and intra-city rival Sierra (6-4). The third-seeded Timberwolves host No. 6 Center (7-3) tonight. In Division III, No. 13 East Union (6-4) heads to No. 4 Del Campo (5-5), and on Friday No. 5 Ripon (6-4) travels to No. 4 Capital Christian (8-2) in a Division V opener.
Last week, Manteca grinded past East Union 22-6 in the 50th game between the rival schools. The win didn’t come as easily as some may have predicted, though Reis expected to see the Lancers’ best effort.
“We were supposedly going to win super easy and look what happened,” Reis said. “I’m sure Dixon is reading the papers, too. It’s hard to see a team like that with nothing to lose. We’ll have to prepare for onside kicks, halfback passes and things like that. That’s a pretty good team, and in watching film on them our kids see that they have some players.”
The Rams are making their ninth straight postseason appearance but haven’t won a playoff game since 2008. Their deceptive attack could prove to be a challenge for Manteca’s lockdown defense that has given up just 100 points so far.
Dixon is led by quarterback Ben Nefzger (1,176 yards, 11 touchdowns, five interceptions) and 6-foot-3, 230-pound Cameron Garlick, the Rams’ leading rusher (557 yards, eight TDs) and receiver (393 yards, five TDs).
“They’re traditionally a running team but they have a really good quarterback who allows them to add another element,” Reis said. “They run two completely different offenses with the same personnel, so it makes it hard on defenses.”
Sierra could get another crack at Manteca in the championship round. Manteca cruised to a 48-13 win in their regular-season showdown.
The Timberwolves must first get past Center. The Cougars from Antelope rebounded well from two straight competitive losses to eventual Pioneer Valley League co-champions Placer (No. 2 seed in Division IV) and Lincoln. They answered with big wins over traditional powers Colfax and Bear River. Their other loss was a 41-34 nonleague decision against Bradshaw Christian, the defending champion and No. 2-seeded team in Division VI.
Ripon had an opportunity to gain a favorable seed in the tough Division V bracket but lost to Hilmar 21-7 in the duel for the Trans-Valley League championship last week.
The consolation prize is a trip to Sacramento and a first-round meeting against five-time reigning GEL champion Capital Christian, a program that routinely produces impressive athletes such as 6-6 receiver Austin Alexander (558 yards, six TDs), multi-purpose threat Julian Leslie (666 rushing yards, eight TDs; 757 receiving yards, seven TDs), 5-11, 215-pound sophomore running back D’Marcus Ross (871 yards, 17 TDs) and 6-4, 250-pound lineman Weston Jones (67 tackles, 12 sacks).