Nothing comes easy against Oakdale.
Not even with a 23-point lead in the fourth quarter.
The visiting Mustangs rallied late and gave Manteca a scare in this marquee matchup of Valley Oak League titans at Guss Schmiedt Field on Friday.
The Buffaloes exhaled when the ball settled onto the turf after cornerback Matthew Ender tipped Marc Dickson’s Hail Mary pass, securing a 30-22 win. A diving Zac Campbell nearly came up with it in the back of the end zone for Oakdale (5-1 VOL, 7-2 overall).
“One of their guys dove for the ball and I got kind of scared for a second because I just gave up on the play — I thought it was over,” Manteca safety Kyle Rachels said. “The relief was amazing. I was so happy.”
Manteca (5-1, 8-1) has reason to be jubilant; it’s only the Buffaloes’ fifth win over Oakdale in Eric Reis’ 15 years as head coach, and it keeps them in contention for at least a share of the VOL title. The crown could be split three ways with a win over East Union next week and an Oakdale upset of first-place Central Catholic.
Manteca appeared to be on its way to a surprisingly one-sided win after scoring two touchdowns on its first two plays of the final quarter. The scores bookended Vincent Ferro’s interception, and on the next play Rachels hit Joel Olmos (three receptions, 35 yards, two touchdowns) on a 12-yard halfback toss to give the Buffaloes a seemingly-comfortable 30-7 cushion with 9:45 remaining.
Reis had a feeling Oakdale wasn’t going to go away quietly.
“Never,” he said. “You keep telling yourself that and then you make a couple of mistakes and you let them in it. In any sport, once the momentum gets going it’s tough to stop. One heck of a football game. Obviously, we were fortunate to get out of here (victorious).”
Cameron Cherry (13 rushes, 48 yards) ignited Oakdale’s comeback charge by returning a kickoff 40 yards, and an additional 15 yards was tacked on thanks to a horse-collar penalty. Dickson later found Jacob Peterson (two receptions, 67 yards) for a 25-yard touchdown pass to close Oakdale in 30-14 with still 7:19 to go.
Manteca was able to chew up about 3 minutes off the clock on the ensuing drive before punting. Will Semone (22 rushes, 110 yards), who was held in check for the most part, set up the Mustangs’ next touchdown with a 48-yard jaunt. Bronson Harmon scored from 13 yards out on the next play.
The Oakdale defense held again, aided by a personal foul from the Buffaloes that forced a third-and-23. Manteca punted again with a minute left.
Oakdale, starting from its own 40, quickly darted into the red zone on the first play from its last series, as Dickson (5 of 12, 118 yards, two TDs) nailed Peterson with a 42-yard heave. The Mustangs couldn’t move past the 18-yard line from there, and a holding infraction backed them up to the 34. On third down, Cherry was unable to haul in a high pass from Dickson inside the 20, and a second remained on the clock to give Oakdale one last shot.
“Our kids do what our kids do,” Merzon said. “We didn’t play real well but man we played hard. That’s all you can ask of your kids. They just never quit. … I’m proud of our kids.”
Manteca quarterback Gino Campiotti had one of his best games Friday. His 6-yard scramble on the opening play of the fourth extended the Buffaloes’ lead to 23-7. He did not attempt a pass in the final period, finishing 10 of 12 for 134 yards and a 26-yard scoring strike to Olmos.
Campiotti has bounced back well from a nightmare effort at Central Catholic two weeks ago, when he completed just eight of 19 passes and threw three interceptions.
“He really improved,” Reis said. “There was a lot of pressure on him tonight and I thought he did super well. He showed a lot of moxie tonight, especially getting a lot of first downs when we needed it. That last touchdown he got was just him willing to make it happen.”
Receiver Jose Garcia (six receptions, 116 yards; six rushes, 28 yards) also shined in the victory and broke the century mark for a second straight week. He had two big catches that keyed touchdown drives — a diving 45-yard grab in the second quarter, and 30-yard catch on an underthrown pass from running back James Thomas.
“We were hungry,” Garcia said. “We wanted to come out and try to beat another good team. We had to execute and play smart.”
Manteca will look to do it against next week when the regular-season ends with intra-city rival East Union. A win gives the Buffaloes a good chance at garnering the No. 1 seed in Division III or IV for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
“We will not overlook them, I guarantee you that,” Reis said.