STOCKTON — It had the makings of a shootout and a possible upset.
Then Manteca High poured in 34 unanswered points over the final three quarters to upend Weston Ranch 48-14 on Friday.
Weston Ranch (0-2 Valley Oak League, 1-4 overall) put the undefeated Buffaloes in a bind early on, first with an 80-yard catch-and-run from James Simerly to Oshari Dunn on third-and-10.
After Simerly hooked up with Alex Esan for another scoring play through the air, this one spanning 20 yards with 6:29 remaining, the Cougars got the ball right back on the ensuing kickoff when Daniel Nelson came up with a fumble.
Weston Ranch couldn’t capitalize, going four and out on the next series. Sal Pena tackled Simerly for a 7-yard loss on first down for the first of his two sacks, Esan was stopped and a 2-yard loss, a pre-snap penalty drove the Cougars further back and on third-and-24 Kenny Williams nearly kept the drive alive with a miracle catch.
The Cougars punted, and the Buffaloes went to work.
“I told our guys they were going to come out fired up and they were — Weston Ranch had a chance,” Manteca coach Eric Reis said. “I was really happy with the fortitude we showed.
“It would have been real easy, with all that going against us, to kind of fold. But from that point on our guys got the momentum and rode it all the way to the end.”
Manteca outgained Weston Ranch 404-250 in offensive yardage, and 307-46 on the ground. The Buffaloes had four rushers eclipse the half-century mark: Danny Gouveia (13 rushes, 59 yards, TD), Joe Trout (5-61), Cameron Harvey (7-53) and Jamontee Jones (18-74-1).
But the star on this night was 5-foot-8 receiver Eric Ceja, who burned the Cougars’ athletic and playmaking defensive backs for big gains.
All five of Manteca’s pass completions went to Ceja, who finished with 97 yards and three touchdowns. His 33-yard TD catch was a jump ball in the end zone in double coverage, and it put the Buffaloes up 28-14 late in the first half.
“What a player,” Reis said. “They had great coverage on him and he just makes plays. He’s tremendous going after balls — pretty impressive.”
Alex Martinez continued his efficient play behind center, completing four of six passes for 77 yards and two touchdowns before leaving the game with a bruised thumb on his throwing hand. The thumb was injured on the 33-yard strike to Ceja, as he took a hit while following through on the throw.
Manteca’s offensive didn’t skip a beat with Fox in control. His one completion went for a 20-yard score to Ceja, capping a 14-play drive lasting 6 minutes, 5 seconds to begin the second half.
“Ryan came in and did a good job,” Martinez said. “I expected him to do well and he did, so props to Ryan.”
The shifty Fox also rambled in from 16 yards out on a well-executed bootleg for Manteca’s next score, making it 42-14 with 2:25 left in the third. The Buffaloes recovered an onside kick on the next play to keep Weston Ranch’s quick-striking attack off the field.
The Cougars were limited to five plays in the quarter, two of them resulting in turnovers off fumbles. They got away with the first fumble, which was caused by Harvey and Zach Menasco on a sack and picked up by Angel Gomez, as Manteca coughed it up at the goal line three plays later.
Weston Ranch fumbled five times and lost four of them.
“We played hard, but the mistakes broke us apart,” Simerly said.
Simerly finished 11-of-20 for 219 yards and two touchdowns, and several dropped balls kept him from putting up better numbers. Running back Tremain Buntan grinded out 71 yards on nine rushes and added 84 more on three receptions.
It was an overall sloppy game marred by penalties and turnovers. Manteca had two turnovers was flagged 11 times for 63.5 yards. Weston Ranch was penalized nine times for 75 yards, and a third sideline infraction led to the ejection of head coach Mike Hale late in the third quarter.
“It didn’t affect us,” Simerly said of Hale’s ejection. “Seeing coach fight for us made us want to fight harder and fight for him,”