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Manteca survives Spartans scare
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Lathrops Hawaii Leafa Teo powers up into the Manteca High defense as linebacker Lechi Nkwocha wraps him up at the line of scrimmage. - photo by Photo WAYNE THALLANDER

LATHROP – It was a game of momentum. And a game of inches.

With just over six minutes to play in the fourth quarter and down by two points, the Lathrop Spartans had the chance to be world beaters Friday night when Matt Hernandez lined up for a 29-yard field goal that would have given them a one-point lead over visiting Manteca High in the game’s waning moments.

A chance to be homecoming heroes. A chance to possibly deal one of the Valley Oak League’s top programs its second straight loss.

But the Manteca High defensive line pushed in just far enough to get a finger on the ball and keep it from sailing through the uprights, and when the Spartans had a chance on the next possession to convert a fourth-and-1 with less than two minutes to play, that same line – which had been caught flat-footed throughout the second-half – stood firm.

Manteca 14, Lathrop 12.

The Buffaloes, who sat starting quarterback Dakarai Charles and standout running back Hector Soto for the entire first half with injuries, ended up turning back to their power players to keep Manteca competitive.

“Momentum is such a big part of football, and it was crazy tonight because when they got the momentum we couldn’t stop them,” Manteca head coach Eric Reis said. “These kinds of games test your manhood. We had a situation where our quarterbacks weren’t right and we were up 14-0 and we thought we could rest them – it seemed like a great call at the time.

“But we ended up having to come back and outplay them at the end and we didn’t expect that.”

Manteca, which scored both of its touchdowns on breakaway plays in the first quarter, seemed to be fine with the stable of players alternating carries. Quarterback Dom Pisano connected with Ronaldo Tijero for a 26-yard touchdown on the game’s opening drive, and after a Lathrop three-and-out, watched Darrion Kitson gallop 35 yards through the Spartan secondary for what seemed like a solid lead.

That, however, would be the extent of Manteca’s offensive production.

Lathrop came roaring back in the second half thanks to the fresh legs of Jacob Devita, who scored from 10 yards. A blocked PAT left the score lopsided, and the Spartans’ ensuing score that would have knotted the game forced the team to go for the two-point conversion.

A jump ball in the corner of the end-zone to Nathan Ogunbanwa was unsuccessful.

The blocked field goal gave Manteca enough of an offensive chance to eat up a large portion of the remainder of the clock on its ensuing possessions, utilizing Soto to pick up the hard yards inside the tackles.

“We came out in the second quarter and shut out Manteca and it really came down to just two points – a blocked PAT (and) a blocked field goal. That ended up being the difference tonight,” Lathrop head coach Steve Wichman said. “Just two points.”