By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Manteca coach expects challenge from state-hopeful Wilcox
Manteca may lean on quarterback Joe Menzel and the passing attack more heavily this week against Santa Clara-based Wilcox. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Eric Reis is pulling no punches, sparing no superlative when it comes to his opponent from Santa Clara.

He’s calling Friday’s showdown with Bay Area heavyweight Wilcox one of the great matchups in Guss Schmiedt Field’s recent history.

Care to argue his point?

So far, the longtime Manteca High football coach has been spot-on with his assessment of players and matchups this season.

Let’s start with Alex Laurel, the Buffaloes’ senior dynamo with the area’s best nickname: “Nitro.”

Laurel scored four touchdowns on his first four touches in Friday’s 47-20 season-opening road victory over Central Valley.

Laurel returned the opening kickoff 95 yards, ripped off a 44-yard rushing touchdown, and had punt return scores of 55 and 56 yards.

“Can’t be much happier than that – we took the opening kickoff for a touchdown,” Reis said. “I thought Alex would be pretty electrifying and obviously he is.”

Speaking of electrifying...

Reis compared Central Valley running back Ja’Quan Gardner to an NFL legend for his ability to shake, spin and step out of tackles.

Gardner had 117 yards and is on pace to eclipse 5,000 for his career.

“Gardner is like Barry Sanders. There is no way he won’t get his yards,” Reis said. “I don’t know if there is a team around that stop him. He’s that good.”

Right again.

Reis also said Manteca’s defense would have to be the catalyst in all their triumphs this season. On Friday, the defensive unit played through tired legs, logging 21 more plays than the offense.

 Given all of that, Reis’ comparisons of Wilcox to Grant (Sacramento) for their size, or the 2005 Modesto High team that featured multiple Division I players don’t seem so far-fetched, do they?

Wilcox rolls into town boasting those kinds of credentials. The Chargers reached the semifinal round of the Central Coast Section Division II playoffs a year ago and return most of their talent.

“We’re fired up,” head coach Dan Brown said in the San Jose Mercury News’ preview package. “We believe we could be pretty good.”

So does Reis, who has reviewed tape from Wilcox’s scrimmage with Valley Christian last week. He came away ... convinced.

“They think they have a chance to go 14-0 and have state aspirations as a team,” Reis said.

The Chargers operate out of a split veer, an option offense perfected by De La Salle. Delshawn Mitchell will get the bulk of the carries. He rushed for 1,640 yards a season ago, averaging more than 9.3 yards per attempt with his sprinter’s speed.

“I’m really excited to go play again,” Mitchell said in the Mercury News’ preview. “I was dying for this opportunity right now.”

The line, led by 6-foot-3, 280-pound Jimmy Leatiota and Sione Finefiaki, is as big and strong as Manteca will see all season, Reis said. Yet another formidable task for his defense.

“They were competitive and efficient. They have some dudes,” Reis said of the footage from Friday’s scrimmage. “They some very big kids and some skill kids behind them.

“In my 12 years, this is one of the most talented teams to come into Guss Schmiedt.”

The matchup reminds Reis of his 2005 team’s showdown with Modesto High. The Buffaloes won a “a dogfight” with the Division I team, 21-13, setting the tone for the first of back-to-back Sac-Joaquin Section championships.

Manteca (1-0) has similar ambitions this fall, and will attack Wilcox with a much more balanced attack than it showed last week vs. Central Valley.

The Buffaloes surged to a 26-6 first-quarter lead and rushed the ball on 30 of its 38 offensive plays hoping to chew up game clock.

Though he was 8 of 8 for 80 yards and one rushing touchdown, quarterback Joe Menzel was a bit player in the victory.

He’ll cast a longer shadow Friday, as the Buffaloes look to keep Wilcox guessing.

Manteca will have options through the air. Along with Laurel, Menzel will target wide receivers Brandon Dabney (5-11) and Dom Pisano (5-9), as well as tight end Michael Hatfield.

“He’s a good safety valve,” Reis said of 6-foot-6 Hatfield. “He created mismatch problems.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

“We want to be good, too. Our thought is if you’re going to be good and compete for sections and state, you have to play teams that win,” Reis said. “We’ll see how good we are. It’s preseason, so it’s a chance to find out how good we are.”