Victory formation is not supposed to be this adventurous.
Sitting on a 43-38 lead over Christian Brothers in the closing seconds Friday at Guss Schmiedt Field, Manteca — after getting flagged for illegal formation — was backed up inside its own 5-yard line, and the third-seeded Falcons did all they could to make a routine kneel-down anything but in an attempt to force a safety.
“That was the scariest thing I ever saw,” Campiotti said. “They had eight dudes from guard to guard. I’m not going to lie, I was intimidated. I had to convince myself with everything I had to just take the snap. It was tough.”
And he’d do it all over again, if he has to.
He was able to fall on the 1-yard line on the final two plays from scrimmage, and the second-seeded Buffaloes held on for yet another heart-stopping win over Christian Brothers while clinching their spot in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III final. They’ll encounter Valley Oak League foe and top-seeded Oakdale (12-1) next Friday, Dec. 1 at Lincoln High’s Alex G. Spanos Stadium in Stockton.
On Sept. 1, Campiotti led an improbable 36-35 victory over the Falcons (10-3), who had a 10-game winning streak heading into the semifinal, at Sacramento City College after Manteca trailed by two scores with 3 minutes remaining. In the much-anticipated rematch, it was Christian Brothers down two scores — 43-31 after Campiotti’s 23-yard touchdown with 2:39 to go — and threatening to pull off a miracle of its own.
Gunnor Faulk and the quick-striking Falcons answered with a 55-yard catch-and-run to Jaiden Green on a screen play with 1:17 left, then Christian Brothers recovered the ensuing onside kick. Two plays later, sophomore call-up Dom Rea came up with an interception at the Buffaloes’ 5 as Faulk overthrew intended target Jack O’Hearn.
Faulk finished 29 of 45 with 382 yards and four touchdowns, adding 73 yards and a score on 14 rushes. Oregon-bound tight end Spencer Webb caught nine of those passes for 125 yards and a touchdown, and Tyler Green contributed eight catches for 88 yards and a score.
“There’s no lead that’s big enough because they are that good on offense,” Manteca coach Eric Reis said. “Gunnor is a stud. He’s like Gino; they can run and they can throw. And with Webb, we tried to double team him but there are so many other guys. Credit to them, their coach (Tyler Almond) has done a phenomenal job. They were there (in the section final) last year, but they are so much better now.”
“It took a lot of special performances for us,” Reis added. “The kids were able to gut it out.”
Campiotti scored five rushing touchdowns for a second straight week, piling up 134 yards on 23 attempts. Passing-wise, he was 12 of 21 for 164 yards, a touchdown and an interception. His first six completions went to diminutive sophomore Jacob De Jesus (seven receptions, 63 yards; seven rushes, 31 yards), and he found Jorge Cedano for a 5-yard scoring strike for a 29-16 Buffaloes lead with 5:08 left in the third quarter.
Manteca had to make do without its top running back Trabron Russell and leading receiver Pressley Keltner, who were both out with sprained ankles. The Buffaloes (11-2) still managed to accumulate 431 yards of offense. Christian Brothers racked up 494 yards. Manteca got the stops when needed, with Rea picking off two passes and Matthew Ender intercepting one on CB’s second drive of the game.
“It’s hard to play without them because they make my job a lot easier when we’re pounding the ball with Tra or slinging it to Pressley — they make plays,” Campiotti said. “When they’re going it’s a lot harder (to stop), but as Buffaloes we love that challenge.”
With key players sidelined, Manteca asked two of its senior leaders to contribute more than they are used to. Standout inside linebacker Ferrin Manuleleua got to shine on the offensive end as a fullback, ripping off big plays that helped set up two of Manteca’s touchdowns.
The first was a well-designed misdirection screen pass that went for 42 yards late in the second quarter, and on the next play Campiotti rambled into the end zone from 24 yards with help from a key downfield block from running back Michael Frisby (eight rushes, 48 yards).
Manuleleua later had a 44-yard run and 22-yard catch up the middle, finishing with 118 yards on five total touches.
“Ever since Tra got injured they wanted me to step up more in an offensive role,” Manuleleua said. “They put in a few plays that are designed just for me, and their defense fell for it.”
Campiotti also had to pull double duty — triple duty, if you include special teams kickoffs and point-after tries. He was called upon to play safety, which he hadn’t done since his sophomore year, to help guard Webb.
On a night filled with bone-crunching hits, it was Campiotti who delivered the biggest one. On the final play of the third quarter, Christian Brothers was faced with third-and-22 from near midfield when Faulk found an open Andrew Dettling near the sideline. Campiotti, who was covering Webb, had a running stop and crushed the receiver with a shoulder tackle that limited the play to an 8-yard gain and forced a punt.
“Earlier in the week, before school Monday, (defensive coordinator Rick James) texted me saying ‘We got a package with you playing defense,’” Campiotti said. “I haven’t played defense since my sophomore year, and I knew in their mind it was to cover (Webb). We went over it a lot because I had to get in that groove again. I don’t do any defensive work in practice, but it was fun.
“I had a few good plays, and I messed up, too. I played a lot more than I expected to on defense.”
Manteca may need a similar effort from its stars next week as it looks to avenge a 36-15 loss to Oakdale, the section’s reigning Division III champion which went on to claim the CIF State Division III-A title a year ago.
“We’re going to enjoy this first,” Reis said. “I don’t want to think about that one yet.”