Manteca 0 6 8 14 — 28
Lincoln 0 3 0 0 — 3
L — Jaden Holm field goal, 4:31.
M — Blake Nichelson 9 run (kick fail), 1:45.
M — Garrison Reis 16 pass from James Dennis (Alijah Cota run), 10:01.
M — Nichelson 7 run (Eduardo Zambrano kick), 8:49.
M — Nichelson 7 pass from Hudson Wyatt (Zambrano kick), 0:25.
LINCOLN — Manteca is hitting on all cylinders again, and the Buffaloes could not have picked a better time to do so.
With Blake Nichelson and Lyon Colon nearing full strength following injuries and a defense that has allowed just 17 points in two playoff games, No. 3 Manteca’s 28-3 thumped second-seeded Lincoln on Friday at the Edward Alexander Grey Sports Complex.
The win sets up a rematch with No. 1 Oakdale for the Sac Joaquin Section Division III championship next Friday at 7 p.m. at St. Mary’s in Stockton.
The Mustangs downed the Buffaloes (9-3) 28-0 in the Valley Oak League finale on Friday, Oct. 29, but that was without Nichelson or Colon as well as some other players.
Neither team could muster any sort of attack to open the game as the first quarter ended with no score. The Fighting Zebras (8-3) got on the board first with a 31-yard Jaden Holm field goal with 4:31 left in the half. Manteca countered with a 70-yard, eight-play, three-minute drive capped off by a 9-yard scoring run for Nichelson (24 carries, 100 yards), the first of two rushing touchdowns for Nichelson.
Two plays later Zion Allen snagged an interception for the Buffaloes, giving them the momentum leading into the second half.
“It was a double pass and I sat on it,” Allen said. “And now we’re looking forward to playing Oakdale.”
Colon (seven carries, 63 yards) wasted little time seizing that second-half momentum, sprinting 49 yards on the first play of the third quarter. Manteca made the score 14-3 barely two minutes into the second half when Garrison Reis pulled in a 16-yard halfback pass from James Dennis.
“This feels good,” Colon said. “It feels amazing to be back. This is my senior year and I only have a limited amount of games left.
“On that first play of the second half I saw a hole and I saw (Alijah) Cota block the guy and I just broke off from his block.”
Nichelson added a pair of scores in the fourth quarter first on a 7-yard run and then on a 7-yard pass from Hudson Wyatt with 25 seconds left in the game.
“I only missed a game and a half but it really hurts to see myself on the sideline not helping out the team,” Nichelson said. “But next week I will be 100 percent for defense too – I played just a little defense tonight.
“Our mentality every game is to just go out and play our game and that’s what we did tonight.”
The Buffaloes defense was nails, forcing three turnovers while yielding just 153 yards in total offense. In addition to Allen’s interception, Dominic Alvarez forced a fumble while Mason Gandy and Isaiah White each recovered a fumble. Thomas Perea and Cris Ray each had three tackles for a loss and a recent call-up from the freshman team, White posted five tackles for a loss.
“That fumble just changed my life,” White said. “It felt amazing. I got a few fumbles when I was playing freshmen but doing it on varsity made me real proud.
“It’s an honor to play with guys like Blake Nichelson and Lyon Colon and all of them.”
Manteca coach Mark Varnum anticipated the gauntlet the Lincoln defense would throw down to start the game.
“It was a tough start,” Varnum said. “We knew they played great, great defense and they had an answer early on but we were able to wear them down. It took a little longer than we would have liked but we were able to finish it in the second half.
“With the dudes we have it’s just a matter of time. Blake (Nichelson), Lyon (Colon), K.P. MacDannald and a couple of receivers tonight even — it’s just a matter of time and stuff is going to work.”
Varnum relished the idea of playing in the road in the playoffs.
“We like it,” Varnum said. “There is something about wearing all whites, going on the road and winning in someone else’s house.
“They had a great crowd and a great atmosphere, but we play a different brand of football in the Valley than they do up here and we showed that tonight.”
Ryan Henning was the workhorse for the Fighting Zebras, grinding out 90 tough yards on 20 carries.
Manteca will be making its 12th SJS final-round appearance and fourth in five years while seeking an eighth championship banner.