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Nitros boost carries Manteca to blowout
Manteca quarterback Joe Menzel scrambles away from the pressure Friday evening, while keeping his eyes trained down field. - photo by Dale Butler

Manteca    26    6    8    7    – 42
C. Valley    6    8    0    6    – 20

First quarter
M – Laurel 95-yard kickoff return (Montaro kick)
CV – Bermudez 19-yard catch from K. Johnson (kick blocked)
M – Laurel 55-yard punt return (kick blocked)
M  – Laurel 44-yard run (kick blocked)
M  –  M. Gonzalez 7-yard run (Montaro kick)
Second quarter
M – Laurel 56 punt return (kick failed)
CV – Gardner 14 run (Johnson run)
Third quarter
M – Laurel 54 punt return (Soto run)
Fourth quarter
M – Soto 1 run (Montaro kick)
CV – Bermudez 81-yard catch from K. Johnson (kick blocked)
Records: Manteca 1-0, Central Valley 0-1
JV – Manteca won.

Da’Quan Gardner, Central Valley: 188 all-purpose yards, one TD.
Kendel Johnson, Central Valley: 166 all-purpose yards, 2 TD passes.
Angelo Bermudez, Central Valley: four catches for 145 yards, two TDs.
Alex Laurel, Manteca: 5 TDs on three punt returns (54, 55 and 56 yards), one 44-yard run and a 95-yard kickoff return for a total of 310 yards overall.

CERES – There were a lot of things going against Manteca High Friday night.

The traffic was thick getting to the stadium. The Buffaloes were playing on the road at Ceres High against Cemtral Valley, a former Valley Oak League opponent. Plus, they had to try to find a way to stop a talented backfield that included breakaway back Ja’Quan Gardner.

In the end, none of those things mattered as Manteca throttled the Hawks 47-20 in a game that was all but over before the first period had even ended.

As talented as Gardner (125 yards) is, there was only one standout performer Friday night – and he wore No. 5 for Manteca.

Alex Laurel, a senior running back/return man, was downright spectacular, opening the game with a scintillating 95-yard TD kickoff return.

He was just getting started.

All told, the sprinter scored five times, the finale a 54-yard punt return in which he reversed field and made the Eagles look silly as he once again sped into the end zone.

“It feels amazing,” Laurel said. “We’ve got the best offensive line in the whole valley and it felt good to contribute like that. I feel blessed.”

Looking like the preseason favorite for the Valley Oak League Most Valuable Player, Laurel was an unstoppable weapon, breaking off two more punt returns (55 and 56 yards) and a 44-yard end around for TDs, scoring four times on his first four touches. He added a 55-yard punt return for a TD early in the second half, silencing the CV crowd.

“That was a pretty fun game, pretty electric,” said Manteca head coach Eric Reis, whose team ran out to a 26-6 first-quarter lead. “Alex Laurel is pretty special. We thought he could make big plays (in practice) but you never know until the game starts. As much as he has improved on the field, he’s equally strong off the field.”

The game started with Laurel’s all-out sprint for 95 yards. After CV answered with a touchdown, Laurel scored three more times, each run more spectacular than the last.

“That’s what we do,” said offensive lineman Isaac McClain, who was in on six tackles and blocked two kicks. “This was a great way for us to start the season.”

Fellow offensive lineman Billy Sharmoug agreed.

“That was crazy. That’s why we call him Nitro. With the defensive and offensive lines we have and then you add the explosiveness of Nitro ... we’re going be tough.”

Quarterback Joe Menzel didn’t have much to do Friday night, handing off to his two-pronged running attack of Hector Soto and Michael Gonzalez. Reis said he’ll get his work in against  Santa Clark Wilcox next Friday in Manteca’s home opener.

“That is one tough team so we might have to mix it up a little bit and Joe is a good QB,” Reis said.