Manteca 0 8 6 0 — 14
Pittsburg 7 7 14 7 — 35
P — Jaden Rashada 3 run (Octavio Lopez kick), 6:23
M — Blake Nichelson 3 run (Nichelson run), 8:13
P — Zack Card 11 pass from Rashada (Lopez kick), 11.8
P — Elijah Bow 8 run (Lopez kick), 10:37
P — Bow 2 run (Lopez kick), 6:26
M — Bryson Davis 1 run (run fail), 43.9
P — Rashada 12 run (Lopez kick), 5:21
PITTSBURG – Manteca answered Pittsburg early with a long, time-consuming drive only for the Pirates to score the next 21 points on the way to a 35-14 win Saturday in the NorCal Division I-A Regional Football Championship at Pirates Stadium.
With rain falling from the opening kickoff to the final buzzer, the Pirates (12-2) drew first blood on a 3-yard run from Florida-bound quarterback Jaden Rashada (7 of 12 passing, 14 yards, touchdown; four carries, 37 yards, two touchdowns) midway through the first period for a 7-0 lead.
Enter the ground-pounding, chew-it-up Manteca offense. With the ensuing kickoff sailing into the end zone, the Buffaloes (11-2) started off on their own 20 end embarked on an 18-play, 80-yard drive that consumed nearly 10 minutes with Manteca converting two fourth downs and overcoming a holding penalty. Blake Nichelson (33 carries, 172 yards) capped off the drive with a 3-yard scoring run and a conversion run to give Manteca its only lead of the night at 8-7.
“This has been such a long journey,” Nichelson said. He will be heading to Florida State. “With everything from working out to the night practices with the team it feels like thousands of hours to get where we got to today.
“It was a heck of a ride. I will never forget this team and I love everyone on it. We did our best. I guess we came up a little short this game, but I am just proud of everyone for getting here. There were a lot of trials along the way that we had to get through to get here. A lot of people doubted that we would be able to get through the SFL (Sierra Foothill League) teams, but we did.”
After forcing Pittsburg to go three and out, the Buffaloes offense picked up right where it left off, chewing up nearly six minutes behind 12 plays. But their drive stalled out on the Pittsburg 38-yard line with 41 seconds left in the first half.
That was 11.8 seconds more than the Pirates would need behind their 10 Division I commits, closing 62 yards in just four plays and fewer than 30 seconds to take a 14-8 halftime lead on Rashada’s 18-yard scoring pass to Zack Card (three catches, 101 yards).
“We felt really good about where we were early,” Manteca coach Mark Varnum said. “But we just can’t give up plays like that right before the half. That was a big-time momentum swing, and it seemed like we could never get it back in the second half.”
That was as close as the Buffaloes would be the rest of the night. Trailing 28-8 in the third quarter, Manteca again took over on their own 20 following a touchback and was able to grind out one more long drive, taking nearly six minutes to drive 80 yards with Bryson Davis (20 carries, 80 yards) busting in from the 1 with 43.9 seconds left in the third quarter to come within 28-14.
Manteca was placed in one of the top competitive-based divisions for the state playoffs — the highest ever for the school. The Buffaloes dropped to 0-6 in NorCal Bowl Games.
“We got bumped into Division II and we won a D-II title for the first time since 2001,” Varnum said. “This was the third highest bowl game in the state of California. It just shows where these seniors took this program. I am just proud of what they have done, but we have to get used to playing this level, and we are here to stay.”
Sophomore Elijah Bow (22 carries, 163 yards) scored a pair of touchdowns for Pittsburg on runs of 2 and 8 yards. The Pirates will travel to Saddleback College in Mission Viejo on Saturday to face Liberty of Bakersfield for the State I-A championship at 4 p.m.
“That was a heck of a football team we played,” Pirates coach Victor Galli said. “They are big and powerful. We knew it was going to be a heavyweight fight. Hats off to them – they had a tremendous season.
“We played one of our best games this season. It was great that our guys showed up tonight. Our defense had been playing lights out and our offensive line played really well. We took care of the ball and I thought it was a great group effort. Their plan was to keep the ball away from us and they did a pretty good job of it, but we had a couple of key stops on fourth down and that helped.”