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Buffaloes last loss to EU in 1999
Manteca High’s Robert Ladiges goes into Friday’s game against crosstown rival East Union with area-leading 1,473 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns. - photo by HIME ROMERO
It’s been a long time since the East Union-Manteca game, the oldest rivalry in the area, has meant something for all parties involved.

This Friday, it will.

With the outright Valley Oak League championship and favorable Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoff seeds at stake, Manteca will put its undefeated record on the line in front of East Union’s rabid home cheering section, also known as the Red Sea, at Dino Cunial Field.

The Buffaloes (6-0 VOL, 9-0 overall) are coming off a title-clinching win against Oakdale and are a near shoo-in, even with a loss to East Union, for the No. 1 playoff seed.

East Union (3-3, 6-3), currently projected as the No. 11 seed in the Division-III bracket, can guarantee a postseason berth with a win, but it won’t come easy.

Manteca stretched its all-time series lead to 29-12-1 with 10 straight wins over East Union, which last defeated the Buffaloes in 1999, 54-6. The 1999 season was also the last time EU posted a winning record. Win or lose Friday, the Lancers should make their first playoff appearance since 1992.

But East Union head coach Mike James has said all season that his coaching staff and players are past settling for things this year.

East Union’s keys to victory Friday are simple: Keep running back Robert Ladiges out of the end zone, limit big plays through the air and don’t help the Buffaloes out by making mistakes.

So far, no one has stopped Ladiges. Or QB Matt Burrows. And the Lancers have hurt themselves with drive-killing penalties and turnovers in big games. That was certainly the case against Sierra (30-28 loss), Oakdale (63-21) and Sonora (68-20).

Running behind one of the best offensive lines around, Ladiges has rushed for over 100 yards in every game. His 1,473 yards and 24 touchdowns lead all area backs.

Burrows (92-of-158, 1,686 yards, 19 TDs, 7 interceptions) gives Manteca offensive balance it has rarely enjoyed over the years, and he has many sure-handed receivers — like team-leading Michael Timmins (27 receptions, 471 yards, 8 TDs) — to choose from.

Manteca’s defense will have its sights set on Lancer quarterback TeeJay Gordon (104-of-186, 1,410 yards, 12 TDs, 9 INTs; 493 rushing yards, 10 TDs) — a dangerous athlete operating out of the spread. Gordon’s favorite target, Robert Vaughn (41 receptions, 672 yards, TD), is one of the area’s best.

The Buffaloes have been prone to giving up big plays, but they’ve had their moments on the defensive side. In last week’s Oakdale game, they made two clutch goal-line stops on fourth down inside their own 5-yard line — once at the end of the first half, and again midway through the fourth quarter.

Manteca averages 42.2 points per game versus 19.7 against. East Union scores 26.3 while giving up 28.4.