Unsatisfied with his overall body of work in the regular season, Manteca quarterback Gino Campiotti elevated his game — and team — to another level for the playoffs.
And NCAA Division I teams finally took notice.
His legendary postseason effort led the Buffaloes (12-3) to their sixth Sac-Joaquin Section championship, and for the second straight year made him an easy choice for the Manteca Bulletin All-Area MVP honor.
In four SJS contests, he threw for 12 touchdowns and ran for 10, completing 68 of 96 (70.1 percent) passes for 1,011 yards in the process.
Campiotti and the Buffaloes got a running start to the postseason, ending Valley Oak League play against in-town rivals Sierra and East Union. He needed just one half to torch Sierra for 269 yards and five touchdowns in a 63-0 thrashing, then led a 46-17 win over East Union with 190 yards and three scores on 13-of-16 passing.
“I feel like I didn’t have near as strong a regular season as I thought I would have,” Campiotti said. “After the Sierra and East Union games I thought, ‘Now is the time to flip the switch.’”
Manteca overcame a sloppy start to crush Rio Americano 62-21 in the opening round. Campiotti completed 20 of 27 passes for 331 yards and five TDs. He then trampled American Canyon and Christian Brothers for five touchdown rushes each with starting tailback Trabron Russell on the mend from a sprained ankle.
“I knew my carries would go up after Trabron got hurt in our first playoff game,” Campiotti said. “Those rushing touchdowns, I don’t take credit for that — I think our line and (fullback Mike) Frisby put on a show.
“The credit goes to all of them up front, and the receivers made some great plays. It was a team effort. The numbers I had through the playoffs goes back to the team. It was a very unselfish team, and it was never just about me.”
There was no slowing down the Buffaloes’ roll in the SJS Division III championship game, which doubled as a much-anticipated rematch with VOL rival and reigning titlist Oakdale. Manteca jumped out to a 20-0 lead and won 34-17 behind yet another five touchdown tosses from its star quarterback.
The Buffaloes came up short of their ultimate goal of bringing home the program’s first state title. They lost to eventual CIF State Division II-A champion St. Francis of Mountain View 28-23 in the NorCal regional. Campiotti finished 26 of 48 for 322 yards and two touchdowns, but for just the second time all season he was held to negative yardage in rushing.
The season-ending defeat does little to dull the shine of Campiotti and his team’s season. His 2017 passing totals — 221 completions, 357 attempts, 3,265 yards, 39 touchdowns — are single-season program records, and he was the Buffaloes’ second-leading rusher with 595 yards and 15 TDs. He was also the team’s placekicker, converting 47 of 55 PATs and both of his field goal attempts.
Campiotti was named MVP of the VOL. It was a surprise even to him since Oakdale and Central Catholic finished ahead of Manteca in the league standings, and accomplished athletes on those other teams were certainly deserving of the award. Campiotti figured he didn’t stand a realistic chance.
Campiotti’s splendid three-year run as varsity quarterback ends with 6,225 yards, 76 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Above all, he goes out as a two-time section champion; the Buffaloes also claimed the SJS Division IV crown his junior year.
“I wasn’t even aware of all the records and some of my stats,” Campiotti said. “It was all about the journey and the accomplishments I got to achieve with my team. I just know we had one heck of a run.”
He can now focus on the next stage of his football career. Campiotti admitted he was bothered by the lack of interest from NCAA Division I programs early in the season and it affected his play.
“I was stressing about it because I was not playing my best early in the year,” he said. “After talking with my family and praying I realized it’s out of my control. I was content with that midway through the year and that’s’ when I started playing better. Just play football and everything will take care of itself.”
The junior college route appeared to be the way for Campiotti at one point. He caught the attention of College of San Mateo, which competed for the state championship and finished the season ranked No. 2 nationally.
It was after the NorCal Bowl Game that Campiotti received his first D-I offer from Northern Arizona of the Big Sky Conference. He has also gained interest from Big Sky champ Weber State, which lost to top-ranked James Madison 31-28 in the quarterfinal round of the FCS Playoffs.
Campiotti plans on visiting the NAU campus on Jan. 12-14.
“I’ve always worked hard because I wanted this to happen,” Campiotti said “My dream is to play on a full-ride scholarship.”