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Buffs seek first victory vs. Vanden
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Eric Reis has been known to share stories of Manteca High’s grid-iron glory of years past with his players.

This week, however, is a reminder of heartache.

Vanden of Fairfield visits Guss Schmiedt Field tonight for the start of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs. It is the same team that marched onto the same field back in 2010 and routed the then top-seeded Buffaloes 55-22 in the opening round of the playoffs. It is considered to be the biggest upset in Sac-Joaquin Section playoff history.

And in 2002, Reis’ first year as head coach at his alma mater, Vanden ended Manteca’s winning streak dating back to 2000 with a 12-0 win.

“The kids don’t know it, the coaches are 0-2 against Vanden,” Reis said. “They were ranked No. 1 in the state when they beat us my first year, and obviously in 2010 they took it to us when we were the No. 1 seed. We are definitely taking them absolutely serious. We know firsthand how good they can be.”

As if this year’s group of Buffaloes, 8-2 and seeded fourth, needed anymore motivation. They’ve already twice had the sour taste of defeat in their mouths, dropping a 29-28 overtime heartbreaker at Central Catholic in their Valley Oak League opener before taking a 42-21 pounding from Oakdale just two weeks later at Levi’s Stadium. In between those losses was a head scratcher, a tougher-than-expected 14-12 win at Lathrop, which had every reason to believe it should have been the victor.

Reis expects to see 13th-seeded Vanden at its best tonight. The Vikings are 6-4 with losses to quality opponents: Modesto Christian (9-1), Napa (8-2), American Canyon (7-3) and Benicia (6-4). The latter two shared the Solano County Athletic Conference with Vanden taking third. Vanden has proven it can beat a good team as well, topping Rancho Cotate (7-3) of Rohnert Park 33-28 in Week 2.

The Vikings will challenge Manteca with their overall speed on both sides of the ball.

“They’re a fast team,” Reis said. “They have a couple of burners that are always scary when they get the ball. They have a good quarterback who is a big kid and has a good command of the team. They function out of a spread set. They’re balanced, but they want to throw it.”

Jadon Brisendine (1,207 yards, 9 TDs, 9 picks) is behind center for Vanden. Running back Isaiah Hamilton (1,158 yards, 18 TDs) is one of those speed threats, and 6-foot-4 Tony Terry III (41 receptions, 440 yards, 2 TDs) is a tall target in the passing attack.

Terry also doubles as an outside linebacker and is Vanden’s leading tackler with 67. But one player who has really caught the Manteca coaching staff’s eye is 5-9, 180-pound lineman Anthony Hopson, who has racked up 52 tackles and 15 sacks.

“He’s super quick and has an absolute motor that does not stop on every play,” Reis said of Hopson. “You look at him and he’s not very big, but he goes. He is relentless and singlehandedly turns games around. He’s definitely got our attention, for sure.”

Manteca has been rolling since its midseason rough patch. Its current four-game winning streak includes a 34-20 upset of VOL co-champion Sierra.

With quarterback Dakarai Charles (785 yards, 12 TDs passing; 288 yards, 4 TDs rushing) and running back Hector Soto (1,076 yards, 14 TDs) at full strength — their leg injuries during the Central Catholic week had lingering effects — coupled with the emergence of breakaway threat Luis Reyes among others, the Buffaloes believe they are peaking as they begin their SJS Division III title defense.

“We’re healthy now, and we’ve taken a big step in confidence by playing well at the end of the (regular season),” Reis said. “That bodes very well going in. The kids are excited about making another run at it.”