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Rivals seek momentum in VOL finale
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Manteca quarterback Dakarai Charles tries to escape the pressure from Sierras Jacob Gullett and Trevon McCray during last Fridays 34-20 win for Charles and the Buffaloes. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

Jack Weaver didn’t mince his words.

The wise-beyond-his-years quarterback understands the value in the young talent East Union has fast-tracked to the varsity level.

Ten super sophomores, including Weaver, helped put a positive spin on a 35-21 loss at Sierra, a heavy favorite to win a Valley Oak League co-championship this Friday.

“We’re ready to face the challenge,” said Weaver, who threw for a score in the coming-out party against the Timberwolves a few weeks ago. “We want to be the face of Manteca. We’re going to surprise some people the next few years.”

Well, kid, time to meet the top dog.

East Union welcomes reigning Sac-Joaquin Section Division III champion Manteca on Friday in a regular-season finale with some substance.

The Buffaloes have been eliminated from contention for a league title and the VOL’s other automatic qualifier, but a victory would boost their chances at hosting two playoff games.

The Buffaloes (4-2, 7-2) would like a top-four seed when the section’s Division III bracket is released on Saturday evening.

“We want to finish strong. The years that we do well in the playoffs we go in with momentum. I think that’s the key component to this game,” Manteca coach Eric Reis said. “We have a lot to play for, even though there’s not a league championship at stake. It’s for seedings.”

The Lancers will miss the postseason for a fourth consecutive year, but there is reason to believe they won’t remain on the sideline much longer.

Just 1-9 in each of head coach Willie Herrera’s first three seasons, East Union (2-4, 3-6) has collected wins over Johansen, Kimball and Lathrop, the latter two with nine sophomores playing significant minutes.

Up until last week, East Union was still on the playoff bubble. The program hasn’t been this relevant this late in the season since 2010 – its last playoff appearance.

That bubble was popped by Weston Ranch, 14-8, but East Union and its brash young quarterback have their sights set on another prize. A victory over the Buffaloes would give East Union some clout in a season dominated by its neighbors.

Sierra is the likely VOL co-champion, while Manteca is the only team to knock off those Timberwolves. In essence, if the Lancers can shock the Buffaloes, East Union would finish in a tie Manteca for the city championship.

East Union has overcome long odds before, spoiling Manteca’s pursuit of a perfect regular season in 2010 with a 10-7 victory.

“This is a game that gets talked about all year,” Herrera said. “It doesn’t take a lot for the kids to get pumped up for this. It doesn’t matter what the records are – ever. There’s always that want to beat the other side.”

Manteca leads the all-time series 32-13-1 and won 13 of the last 14.

“East Union is a team that beat Lathrop and we don’t take them lightly,” said Reis, whose team narrowly escaped defeat against the two-win Spartans. “We know they’ll bring their best this week and it’s still a very big game.”

If Weaver wants to become the face of the City of Manteca, now is as good an opportunity as ever.

Just one problem: The Buffaloes are playing as well as they have all season. Manteca thrived in the rain and mud, pulling away from Sierra in a 34-20 victory on Halloween night. Running back Hector Soto keyed a rushing attack that churned up 292 yards and three touchdowns.

Soto finished with 197 yards and two touchdowns, while third-string running back Carl Chandler’s 65-yard score was the eventual game-winner.

“You’re seeing a kid with health. He’s a guy that was nicked up earlier this year. When healthy, he’s a load. He has great instincts and he’s difficult to take down,” Reis said. “He’s also a kid that’s proven himself in big games.”

The defense limited Sierra’s big-play offense and put the shackles on running back Mark Paule Jr., who was held without a touchdown for the first time all season.

On Friday, that same attention will be afforded to Weaver, whose ability to improvise make him a nightmare for opposing defenses.

“Weaver is maturing into a legitimate threat,” Reis said. “He does a great job of getting rid of balls at the last second. He improvises really well and it’s something we have to be ready for.”