Their relationship started on the baseball diamond.
Tonight, they meet on the football field.
Joe Menzel and Jake Pruitt are thriving as starting quarterbacks for two schools duking it out for intra-city bragging rights and the Valley Oak League championship. Menzel and Manteca High are trying to lay an outright claim to the crown, while Pruitt and host Sierra are playing for a piece.
“We’re actually good friends,” Menzel said. “Right now we’re rivals, of course, but not enemies. I have a lot of respect for him and I’m excited to play against him tomorrow.”
They have been teammates before on Northgate Little League’s all-star teams. The 6-foot-3 Pruitt had always towered above others on the diamond and was a standout catcher. Menzel was a pitcher. That is how the bond began, and both say it remains today.
“We have a lot of the same friends and we’ll talk about football and stuff when we see each other,” Pruitt said.
Some of it banter, of course. Pruitt admitted that they exchanged friendly jabs over the summer, but that changed as school started and the 2013 football season became official. And the closer it got to the Week-9 Manteca-Sierra game, the quieter it got between the two.
“We kinda shy away from it,” Pruitt said. “It was funny during the summer talking about it and messing around, but now we talk about other stuff and other opponents.”
Both are having great seasons but in different ways.
Pruitt, who drives Sierra’s spread offense, is slinging it all over the field to a slew of talented receivers and ranks among the Sac-Joaquin Section’s top passers (2,291 yards, 27 TDs, 5 INTs). He understandably attracts the headlines and attention with those numbers.
Menzel, on the other hand, is somewhat flying under the radar. Pruitt has completed more passes (180) than Menzel has thrown (120), so the latter’s numbers (1,098 yards, 17 TDs, 2 INTs) aren’t going to stand out as much. But when it comes to passing efficiency their stats are nearly identical: Menzel completes 68.3 percent of his passes and boasts a 130 QB rating, while Pruitt hits 68.2 percent of his targets with a 121 rating.
Menzel is the caretaker of a multi-formation offense that takes advantage of its powerful line.
“You gotta play to your strengths,” Menzel said. “Their strength is passing the ball and Jake does a great job.“We have massive linemen and we can’t go away from (running the ball). I think we have a lot of pride in having a balanced attack.”
He has proven this year and in previous seasons that he can shoulder the weight of the attack if needed. He previously operated out of the spread during his sophomore year at East Union. Menzel went on to break several single-season passing records before transferring.
Pruitt himself is enjoying a record season for Sierra. He threw for 496 yards in the Timberwolves’ first-ever win at Sonora’s Dunlavy Field, and connected on six touchdown strikes in their epic 61-58 victory over nonleague opponent Chavez.
Tonight’s clash is one of differing styles that is sure to produce fireworks one way or the other, and media from all over the region will be there to document one of the biggest crosstown games in the city history.
“It’s a different feeling going into this game, but I’m trying to not get too caught up in the hype and the media (coverage),” Pruitt said. “I want to look at it as another game and another opponent. Our focus as a team is to just play our game.”
Last year, Manteca lost to Sierra on its own field, 35-26. Menzel admitted the defeat still stings, but that is not the Buffaloes’ source of motivation for tonight’s grudge match.
“We didn’t forget about what it was like having them come to our place and beating us, but we already have all the motivation in the world,” Menzel said. “We’re playing for the outright title. We don’t want to share it with anyone.
“Every game is a big game, but games like (Tonights) are special. Having the VOL championship on the line against a crosstown rival just brings much more energy to it. There will be electricity in the crowd. I’m just really excited.”