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Buffs topple rival Oakdale with Wyatt’s 59-yard TD to Allen in final minute
Bulletin sports fall 2021
Manteca shows off its eighth Sac-Joaquin Section championship pennant after defeating rival Oakdale 35-28 in the Division III final Friday at St. Mary’s Sanguinetti Field. - photo by SEAN KAHLER


Manteca 7 14 7 7 — 35

Oakdale 7 0 14 7 — 28


First quarter

M — Garrison Reis 4 pass from Hudson Wyatt (Eduardo Zambrano kick), 4:24.

O — Mickey Merzon 46 pass from Jackson Holt (Kevin Camelin kick), 0:21.3.


Second quarter

M — Blake Nichelson 8 run (Zambrano kick), 5:18.

M — Zion Allen 45 pass from Wyatt (Zambrano kick), 1:01.


Third quarter

O — Jace Rau 16 run (Camelin kick), 8:54.

M— Nichelson 47 run (Zambrano kick), 7:18.

O — Rau 4 run (Camelin kick), 0:5.3.


Fourth quarter

O — Camelin 68 pass from Jackson Holt (Camelin kick), 10:16.

M — Allen 59 pass from Wyatt (Zambrano kick), 0:28.0.

STOCKTON — In a physical slugfest between longtime rivals on Friday, the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III final was decided by the passing game at St. Mary’s Sanguinetti Field.

Manteca’s Hudson Wyatt threw for three touchdowns, including the game winner to Zion Allen with 28 seconds remaining, and the Buffaloes secured the 35-28 victory over Oakdale when Blake Nichelson deflected Jackson Holt’s desperation heave into the end zone with no time left.

Manteca (10-3) started its go-ahead possession with 42.2 seconds remaining after the defense came through for a three-and-out stop. Wyatt needed just one play to push the Buffs ahead for good, escaping pressure in the pocket and chucking it up to Zion Allen in the middle of the field.

Allen came down with it, spun away from linebacker Mason Gilton and dashed past safety Jake Kettering for the electrifying 59-yard touchdown.

“It’s a corner post and it was covered by the safety downfield,” Wyatt said. “My coach always gets mad at me for rolling out and running, so I just kept my eyes downfield and saw him run across the field. I knew I had the arm to do it, and these are the moment’s we’re built for.”

Manteca has captured its eighth overall Section title and fifth in eight years, and with it comes another berth to a California Interscholastic Federation Regional Bowl Game. Pairings for the state playoffs will be released on Sunday.

It’s the second time (2017) Manteca has beaten Oakdale in an SJS final after losing to the Mustangs in Valley Oak League play. Four weeks ago, Oakdale (9-3) rolled to a 28-0 win and earned the top seed for the playoffs, but the No. 3 Buffs were without Nichelson and other key starters.

“That was the real us — we knew it, they knew it and now everybody knows it,” Manteca coach Mark Varnum said. “We had all of our weapons tonight and obviously Blake did what Blake does but other dudes stepped up.”

Nichelson ground out 215 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries, while Allen finished with three catches, 116 yards and two scores — all single-game career-highs for the second-year player.

“I love those guys,” Nichelson said of Wyatt and Allen. “Without those two, we wouldn’t have won, to be honest.”

After throwing just seven passes in the Buffaloes’ first two playoff wins, Wyatt completed 5 of 9 attempts for 138 yards in the biggest game of his life, so far. Holt, who has an offer from Yale, connected on 11 of his 19 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns to lead Oakdale, which battled back from a 28-14 deficit.

“I just love how my coaches trust in me to throw the ball,” Wyatt said. “It showed in the stats that we didn’t throw that much because we have such an explosive backfield. I’m just so happy right now. This is just a great team victory. We’re Section champions, we get to practice on Monday and I just want to keep this going.”

The 6-foot-2 junior and his coaches had to exercise patience as he became more comfortable with the offense. He arrived from Downey over the summer but had to sit out Manteca’s first five games, per SJS transfer rules.

“That just shows how coachable that kid is,” Varmum said. “We get on him about keeping his eyes downfield when he’s scrambling, he took the coaching and tonight made one of the biggest throws in Manteca history.”

Wyatt’s first TD was a 4-yard toss to sophomore tight end Garrison Reis, who started in his place behind center for the first half of the regular season. It was a tone-setting, opening drive for the Buffaloes, who were jump started by Nichelson’s 39-yard scamper on the first place from scrimmage.

The Mustangs defense tightened up from there but gave up two fourth-down conversions, the latter being the Wyatt-Reis score.

Oakdale answered late in the first quarter with Holt’s 46-yard toss to Mickey Merzon. Manteca recaptured the lead with Nichelson’s 8-yard run midway through the second period and took a 21-7 lead into halftime thanks to Wyatt’s perfect over-the-shoulder bomb to Allen with 1:01 left.

The final touchdown of the half was set up by a turnover on special teams, as the ball bounced off Oakdale’s Zach Stott on a punt and was recovered by Manteca freshman lineman Isaiah White.

With momentum shifting and the ball near midfield, the Buffaloes took advantage of one-on-one coverage against the fleet-of-foot Allen on the outside.

“It’s not just what Blake does, it’s what other people can do because of him,” Varnum said. “Teams are so worried about him that it opens up stuff for other people. It was Zion tonight. Next week it might be Lyon (Colon) or K.P. (MacDannald) They have to watch him every single play.”

Nichelson’s second touchdown covered 47 yards, giving Manteca its 28-14 advantage with 7:18 remaining in the third quarter.

Jace Rau (five rushes, 40 yards) scored on touchdown runs of 16 and 4 yards for Oakdale in the same period. Holt then tied it up early in the fourth, finding Kevin Camelin for the 68-yard catch-and-run.

Camelin, who burned Manteca for 99 yards and three total touchdowns in the regular-season showdown, was limited to 27 yards on nine rushes. The Manteca defense held the Mustangs to 104 yards on the ground.

“A couple of trick plays got us, but they were nails especially in the run game,” Varnum said of the defense. “It feels great to get some redemption, and it feels great to hang another blue banner on the wall.”