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Goal-line defense keys win
MHS OHS2-10-30-10a
Manteca linebacker C.J. Rivas chases down Oakdale quarterback Justin Thomas - photo by HIME ROMERO
It was a game of inches (and pounds): Manteca High cornerback David Farrington, generously listed at 5-foot-7, 154 pounds, versus behemoth Oakdale fullback A.C. Brown — all 6-2, 215 pounds of him.

The littlest guy in the game made one of the biggest plays in Manteca’s 35-28 victory Friday at Guss Schmiedt Field. The win clinches at least a share of the Valley Oak League title for the Buffaloes, who are still undefeated (6-0, 9-0 overall) with a game left in the regular season.
While Manteca’s balanced offense — highlighted by Robert Ladiges’ 37 carries, 219 yards and three touchdowns — was stellar, the difference was the bend-don’t-break defense.

Farrington was the centerpiece of the second of two goal-line stands for Manteca.

Oakdale (5-1, 6-3) was ahead 28-27 midway through the fourth quarter and threatened to extend the lead with its physical Wing-T attacking pounding its way into the red zone.

On fourth-and-1 on the Manteca 4, Oakdale opted not to kick the field goal.

Brown took the handoff from Spencer Thomas, sprinted right and had just one man to beat: Farrington.

Farrington buckled down and stuffed him at the 3 ½-yard mark for his fifth and final tackle of the game, and linebacker Brennan Resendes came to his aid to bring down the powerful Mustang ball carrier.

“I saw it coming and just went and made the play,” Farrington said. “Just gotta break him down, hit him low and wish for everything to go our way.”

Everything went Manteca’s way after that.

Manteca needed just five plays to cover 96 yards for the go-ahead score — a 28-yard toss from Matt Burrows to the leaping Matt Mueller (3 receptions, 46 yards), who made a nice grab in the end zone despite double coverage. Ladiges then tacked on 2 more points with a conversion run.

Manteca defensive back Zach Gase intercepted a pass intended for Marcus Hernandez (27 carries, 198 yards, 2 TDs) on the Manteca 15 on fourth-and-long to end Oakdale’s last legitimate chance to tie it.

The Mustangs’ defense held on the next series to give the offense one last shot at it with 11 seconds remaining, but Thomas’ two desperation passes were each again well defended by Gase.

“These games (against Oakdale) are always so close one way or the other,” said Manteca High’s all-time winngest coach Eric Reis, who now has three titles in his nine years. “It was a phenomenal game to be a part of.”

The first goal-line stand also involved Brown, but in this case he went head-to-head with a kid his own size.

With 1.2 seconds left in the second quarter, Oakdale had a chance to go into halftime tied at 21 with the ball on the Buffaloes’ 2 on fourth down.

Brown was stopped short by 6-2, 270-pound lineman Dylan Law (4 tackles, fumble recovery) at the 1.

“It was a game where we didn’t finish early and it hurt us,” said Oakdale coach Trent Merzon. “You’ve got to give it to Manteca, they did finish and they did a great job. That was a great football team that beat us.”

Oakdale’s big-hitting defense was kept off balanced all game.

Burrows completed 12-of-20 for 188 yards and two touchdowns to no interceptions. Michael Timmins caught four passes, one of them an 11-yard scoring strike for the game’s first points, for 83 yards.

 “We knew we had to pass and we knew we had to run, and we did both very well,” Burrows said.

Oakdale can still split the championship for the second straight year, after doing so with Sierra in 2009, with a win over Sonora (4-2, 6-3) and a Manteca loss to East Union (3-3, 6-3) next week. Manteca can garner the top seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs by beating its intracity rival.

“We respect every single opponent,” Reis said. “Obviously, East Union is having a very good year and that’s our rival. We’ll be ready to roll.”