Manteca football coach Eric Reis wanted the ball in the hands of quarterback Joe Menzel. Simple as that.
The ball, however, didn’t oblige.
Trailing by one in overtime, Menzel settled under center for what would have been the game-winning two-point conversion.
Three yards separated him from one of those heroic moments teen-aged football players dream of.
Fate had other plans.
Menzel called for the ball but bobbled the exchange, spilling it onto the turf at the line of scrimmage.
Just like that, game over: Santa Clara Wilcox 28, Manteca 27.
The Chargers sideline erupted in celebration, dodging heart-broken Buffaloes as they went.
“I thought we had a chance. It was a fun football game with the momentum swinging back and forth the way it was,” Reis said. “Just when it looked like they had it, we’d pull it back. Unfortunately, we came out on the bad side of it.”
Quarterback Kenny Dipko scored the decisive points in overtime, plunging the ball across the goal line on a 7-yard sneak.
Robert Bowles converted the extra point, putting the pressure on Menzel and the home side.
Menzel answered with a quarterback sneak of his own, following his massive offensive line into the end zone from one yard out on third-and-1.
Reis’ decision came without hesitation: Stay on the field. He called a timeout to allow offensive coordinator Neil MacDannald to draw up the play.
This game, Reis decided, would be determined by an offensive unit that amassed 353 yards and rallied for the tying score with less than 4 minutes left.
Worth noting: Manteca (1-1) missed a 25-yard field in the third quarter, pushing it wide right.
“I didn’t think they could stop us,” Reis said. “We had missed a short field goal, so my thought was we were going to go down swinging.”
The game played like a U.S. Open tennis final – back and forth, back and forth, as each team swung with their heaviest punches.
Wilcox running back Delshawn Mitchell rushed for 213 yards and two touchdowns, while his backfield mate, Sione Finefeuiaki, backpeddled out of a tackle and into the end zone for 21-14 lead early in the fourth.
Menzel was 14 of 23 for 142 yards and two touchdowns. He connected with Brandon Dabney (6 catches, 58 yards) for a 2-yard score in the second quarter, tying the game at 7-all.
However, he was at his best on the Buffaloes’ second-to-last drive in regulation.
The senior willed Manteca down the field, using both his arm and his legs to keep the chains moving.
Menzel scrambled for 27 yards, including a gusty 19-yard run that moved the ball to the Wilcox 17.
He eluded several defenders on the play, choosing not to slide or avoid the big hit. He took a shot that left him wincing, cradling his left arm.
He’d need only his right one the rest of the way. Three plays later, he rifled a dart into Alex Laurel to make to make it 21-20 with 1:33 remaining.
Marcus Montano tacked on an extra point pushed back to the 15-yard line, sending the game into overtime.
Following the game, Reis’ thoughts were with this quarterback, who experienced the highs and lows of football in about a 15-minute span.
“He’s going to be ticked off,” Reis said. “He’s a competitor. He’ll shake it off and come back to work on Monday.”
Both teams entered the game with lofty expectations; aspirations larger than league titles. Reis said nothing changed with Friday’s loss.
“We don’t learn anything if we don’t play these teams at the start of the season,” he said. “We’ve been put to the flame. This is what the preseason is for.”