TRACY – Eric Reis has turned the style of Manteca High football into a brand.
It’s almost as if teams already know what they’ll be getting when they line up against the Buffaloes – a “stop us if you can” smash-mouth approach to the game that has long been what the rough-and-tumble Valley Oak League is known for.
But rather than come out and immediately pound the ball between the tackles in the VOL opener Friday night against Kimball High, Reis looked to quarterback Ryan Fox to catch the Jaguars on their heels and set an early tempo that would lead to a 42-25 victory. Manteca entered the contest coming off its first regular-season two-game losing streak for the first time since 2003.
“I think that we definitely threw the ball well tonight and I was happy to see that,” Reis said. “A lot of teams think that we’re just going to come out and run right away, and when we saw them on film with some of their stunts and rolls we thought they’d be thinking the same thing.
“I was really happy with how we came out tonight and threw something a little bit different at them. That allowed us to do a lot of different things later on.”
Fox connected on his three consecutive passes in the game’s first drive – an 11-play execution that accounted for nearly half of the first quarter. A four-play outing forced by the Manteca defense on the ensuing Kimball possession gave the Buffaloes the ball back and allowed them to chew up the clock for the rest of the quarter.
Keeping Kimball honest, however, didn’t mean that Manteca wouldn’t eventually go back to their bread-and-butter.
With tailback Eddie Smith at the helm, Manteca shifted their focus in the second half into a run-first look and relied of the downhill running of the senior to both keep the chains moving and the points on the board.
By the time the final whistle sounded Smith had amassed 200 rushing yards on 28 carries and found the end zone five separate times – striking on short runs from a yard out and rumbling his way in from as far back as 31 yards.
“We wanted to keep a fast tempo tonight and we didn’t waste any time,” Smith said. “We tried to mix them up with different coverages and changes, and with the left side of our line healthy again the blocking was great tonight.
“I just wanted to get into the end zone and put the points on the board – that’s what you’re supposed to stay focused on. It’s a great feeling to come out and open up league with a win.
“A lot of people are going to look at the past two games and say that we’re not looking good this year. I think this win proves everybody wrong and gets us off on the right foot.”
While Manteca’s offense appeared to be firing on all cylinders, it was the squad’s defense that had the tough task of game planning for Kimball quarterback Zachary Johnson – who was suspended for the team’s first three games and got his first start under center of the 2012 season Friday night.
Whenever Johnson felt pressure, he scrambled out of the pocket and used his legs for big gains. Left untouched he checked down to his myriad of receivers to keep the chains moving.
He finished with 201 rushing yards on 17 carries with a touchdown, and finished 14-of-23 from the pocket for 177 yards and a pair of scores. He also threw one interception.
Scheduling tough non-league opponents, Reis said, was something that he was second guessing after last week’s heartbreaking shootout loss to the Stagg Delta Kings. But it was evident Friday, he said, that the competition helped ready the squad for the sorts of athletes they’ll come across in the VOL.
“He’s just such a crazy athlete and he gives them so many options when they have the ball,” Reis said. “Now I can see that if you play good people it helps you get better and I think people saw some of that tonight.”
Manteca will host the Weston Ranch Cougars next week for homecoming.