Defending the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship won’t be easy for Manteca.
The No. 5 Buffaloes (7-3) open the postseason Friday against a daunting 12 seed in Burbank (6-4), and they’ll be underdogs the rest of the way should they get past the first round. The loaded bracket includes three undefeated teams — Capital Christian, Placer, Merced — at the top, and battle-hardened fourth seed Antelope (6-4) await the Manteca-Burbank winner.
The top four seeds in Divisions I-VI are awarded first-round byes.
“With three 10-0 teams at the top it’s a solid bracket,” Manteca coach Mark Varnum said. “We were hoping for the four (seed) but we are excited to play this week.
“Burbank has a lot of athletes and team speed. Their record is a little deceptive because they’ve lost to some pretty tough teams in games that went down to the wire. That’s a pretty good-looking 12 seed, I’m just glad to have them at home.”
It will be Varnum’s first postseason contest as Manteca head coach. The Buffaloes are gunning for their third straight section crown (they won the Division IV title in 2016) and have won seven straight SJS playoff games — currently a section best.
While Manteca has reached the playoffs 10 consecutive years, it’s 14 in a row for Burbank. The Titans of Sacramento certainly earned their spot in the postseason after dropping their first three games. The first two defeats were each decided by a point against Christian Brothers (5-5), seeded 10th in Division III, and Delta League champion Sheldon (9-1).
Burbank then lost to Division II No. 7 seed Vacaville 40-14 and finished as runner-up in the Metro League behind undefeated Monterey Trail. The Titans were the only team in the Metro League to score against Monterey Trail, losing, 41-6.
They may lack a quality win, but Varnum knows they are capable. Burbank has outstanding athletes and is led by 6-foot-3, 190-pound senior Levelle Bailey, who holds an offer from San Diego State.
Bailey stars in the spread offense at quarterback, throwing for 1,405 yards, 20 touchdowns and four interceptions while running for 722 yards (12.2 per carry) and 15 scores.
Still not impressed? Bailey is also the Titans’ leading tackler with 81 with six interceptions.
“He’s a dude,” Varnum said. “They have some pretty good skill players, but the quarterback is a stud who is big, fast and does a little bit of everything for them.”
Taniela Fisilau (1,008 rushing yards, eight TDs), Edward Asi (28 receptions, 739 yards, 10 TDs) and Darius Daniel (652 total yards, 12 TDs) are the Titans’ other top weapons.
“Anytime you’re playing a team with that much speed you have to play sound football and make tackles in space,” Varnum said.
The Buffaloes stampede into the postseason having won five straight after early losses to Downey, Granada and Central Catholic. They gave up an average of 11 points during the streak while the prolific offense continued to produce behind QB Ryan Ward (1,697 yards, 22 TDs), RB Trabron Russell (1.069 yards, 15 TDs), WR Jorge Cedano (776 yards, 10 TDs) and the versatile Jacob DeJesus (1,293 total yards, 20 TDs).
“I liked the way we finished (the regular season),” Varnum said. “We were ramping up for the playoffs, but it was hard to get much momentum last week (at East Union) with all the flags but we took care of business and feel good with where we’re at. We’ll see how it goes on Friday.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Burbank vs. Manteca
WHAT: SJS Division III opener
WHEN: Friday, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Guss Schmiedt Field
ADMISSION: $10 adults, $7 seniors (60-above), students (K-12), Children 5-under free