Eric Reis could see the dejected faces on his players after Manteca’s 32-14 loss at Central Catholic two weeks ago.
It’s their only loss of the season to this point.
His message was short and simple: Yes, losing stinks, but there are plenty of big games left to play.
Tonight’s being one of them.
With the Valley Oak League championship still on the table, along with a top seed for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs, the Buffaloes (4-1, 7-1 overall) welcome a peaking Oakdale (5-0, 7-1) team to Guss Schmiedt Field. The Mustangs haven’t visited Manteca’s turf in four years. In 2014, Manteca “hosted” its longtime traditional rival at Levi’s Stadium.
“I don’t even remember who our quarterback was the last time we played them here,” Reis joked.
Manteca can be part of a three-way share of a title with a win tonight and an Oakdale victory over Central Catholic in Week 10. The Mustangs will see Central at The Corral, where they are 74-6 going back to 2004.
Manteca played Central Catholic tough but was ultimately done in by big-play touchdowns, including Daron Bland’s back-breaking 102-yard interception return as time expired in the first half. That gave the Raiders a 25-14 halftime lead.
It was a wake-up call for the Buffaloes, who had grown accustomed to building insurmountable leads by the start of the second half.
“Hopefully we learned something,” Reis said. “When you jump up in weight class you find out a lot about yourself.”
Manteca gets another heavyweight contender that is rolling after a 27-13 season-opening loss to Sonora. The Mustangs graduated the core of their 2015 team that lost to Central Catholic in the SJS Division III championship game.
They’ve since righted the ship, pounding Oregon powerhouse Crater 47-13 before holding off North Coast Section juggernaut Campolindo 28-21 and CIF State Division IV-A reigning champion Sierra 28-25 in consecutive road games. Oakdale went on to pummel its next four opponents.
Fullback Will Semone has fully recovered from an ankle injury sustained in the Sierra game, while versatile running back Cameron Cherry emerged in Semone’s absence. Junior quarterback Marc Dickson has also grown more comfortable in the passing game, but with the Mustangs’ prolific wing-T offense firing on all cylinders they haven’t had to air it out much.
“They have a lot of good juniors who are improving and learning their roles,” Reis said. “They’ve been trying to find out who fits where and obviously they’ve figured things out by Week 9. They’re healthy now and they are playing good ball when it matters most, and hopefully we are, too.
“I’ve only beaten Oakdale four times in 14 years, so we are very well aware of how good they are. This team gives everything they have and a little bit more.”
East Union (3-2, 6-2) at Central Catholic (5-0, 6-2)
With presumably a playoff berth already clinched, the Lancers can guarantee their spot with an upset of the four-time reigning CIF State Small Schools champion.
Central Catholic has been on an absolute tear since entering VOL play and looks to sweep the three Manteca schools on consecutive weeks. The Raiders backed their 32-14 win over Manteca with a 70-10 clobbering of Sierra in a showdown of 2015 state champions.
Slowing down the talented Raiders offense is hard enough for most teams. Scoring points could prove to be just as tough for East Union’s balanced attack. Central Catholic held its previous five VOL opponents to a grand total of 38 points.
Sierra (2-3, 5-3) at
Lathrop (1-4, 2-6)
The Timberwolves have their toughest league opponents behind them, and they’re looking ahead to possibly another postseason run following a forgettable blowout loss.
Winning at least one of their last two should be good enough for an at-large bid, and both contests are on the road against Manteca Unified rivals starting with Lathrop. It has been a frustrating season for the Spartans, who advanced to the playoffs for the first time and earned the No. 1 seed in the SJS Division IV bracket last year.
Kimball (0-5, 1-7) at Weston Ranch (0-5, 3-5)
A .500 finish was enough for Sierra to sneak into the playoffs last year, so there could still be hope for Weston Ranch.
The Cougars wrapped up a second straight 3-0 pre-league with a 71-14 thrashing of Bear Creek but have since scored just 43 points against VOL opponents — and two of those touchdowns were on special teams returns.
Kimball is also struggling on the offensive end, but running back Ryan Rivera (1,059 yards, nine TDs) has been a bright spot.
Hughson (1-2, 4-4) at Ripon (3-0, 5-3)
Ripon’s a win away from competing for the TVL championship.
The Indians shared the crown with Hilmar last season, and their Week 10 match-up could be for the outright claim should both take care of business tonight. Hilmar first heads to 1-7 Mountain House.
Hughson took a 44-7 loss to Hilmar just two weeks ago but remains in the postseason hunt. The Huskies are led by running back Griffin Genzoli (1,234 yards, 20 TDs), who torched Mountain House for 262 yards and three scores.
Ripon Christian (1-4, 2-6) at Le Grand (0-5, 0-8)
Once the class of the SL, Ripon Christian and Le Grand are now battling to stay out of the cellar.
Ripon Christian has at least been competitive in several of its losses this season. That hasn’t been the case for the Bulldogs, who captured four consecutive SJS championships from 2010-13. Le Grand’s offense has been shut out three times and only twice scored in double digits. Last week’s 46-19 loss to Gustine was a season-high for points scored in a game.
Although the Knights are out of postseason contention, they can build momentum for next year when most of their players return.