Slighted by its seeding, Manteca battered Burbank 36-6 in its Sac-Joaquin Section Division III opener last Friday.
The fifth-seeded Buffaloes (8-3) are reigning champions of this loaded bracket that is topped by three undefeated teams. They’ll next venture to No. 4 Antelope (6-4), a 10th-year program led by Matt Ray that has yet to experience a losing season.
The Titans have yet to reach a section final, while Manteca has claimed six titles in 10 championship-round appearances. The Buffs are also riding a section-high seven-game winning streak in the SJS playoffs.
“Getting the five seed, our kids take that a little bit personal, so we’ll try our best to be road warriors,” Manteca coach Mark Varnum said. “We talked about how, regardless of our seeding and where we play, we’re defending our title — that’s how we’re looking at it. Whether we’re at home or somewhere else, the blue banner is ours until someone takes it away from us.”
The Buffs had little resistance from No. 12 Burbank (6-5), also the Titans. And they mainly did it on the ground, relying on their linemen to churn out 316 yards while the defense limited Burbank's spread offense.
Trabron Russell did much if the damage, torching Burbank for 227 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries.
“In round one you never know what you’re going to get, but we came out firing,” Varnum said. “The biggest thing was that our lines really stepped it up with their physicality. We were really pleased with the result.”
Manteca will get a stiffer challenge from Antelope, which has a deceiving record. These Titans have definitely been tested, as seven of their 10 contests were settled by single-digit margins. Two of their four losses were to powerhouse Folsom (9-1) and Capital Valley Conference rival Inderkum (10-0) — ranked No. 1 and 4 in the section, respectively, by MaxPreps.
Another loss was to undefeated Capital Christian, 26-19. Capital is the top-seeded team in Division III. Capital Christian hosts No. 8 Buhach Colony (9-2), and the winner squares off with Manteca or Antelope next.
The Titans do have some quality wins under their belt, edging past seventh-seeded Yuba City and No. 11 River Valley on the road. Yuba City and River Valley both advanced to the Division III quarterfinals.
“They are definitely battle tested,” Varnum said. “They’ve been in tough games all year.”
Antelope is similar to Manteca offensively. The Titans run multiple formations and have a productive quarterback in Nathan Lucero (1,568 yards, 14 TDs, five interceptions) who spreads the wealth to a variety of athletes such as 6-foot-4, 235-pound tight end/outside linebacker Carter Sullivan (213 yards, six TDs) — a Division I prospect.
Mhari Roberts and Savaughn Bradley split the load out of the backfield, combining for more than 1,000 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Bradley (16 catches, 357 yards, two TDs) is also a dangerous pass catcher and is the Titans’ second-leading receiver behind 6-foot wide out Sylvester Toby (28-519-4).
“They are not dependent on one dude,” Varnum said. “They have backs who run hard, some quality receivers and we have to watch out for the tight end. Coach (Rick) James is putting in a lot of work this week with the defensive guys.”
Look for the Buffaloes to open up the playbook this week against Antelope’s defense, which has held its own against outstanding offenses.
“It was old-school Manteca running the ball down their throats last week, but to get to where we want, we need all of our weapons clicking,” Varnum said. “We’ll definitely have to be more balanced this week and get the ball to all of our playmakers.
“They have a lot of team speed and are physical up front, so there should be some good matchups. (Quarterback) Ryan Ward is going to have to make the right decisions and execute like we did on Friday.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Manteca vs. Antelope
WHAT: SJS Division III quarterfinal
WHEN: Friday, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Titan Stadium, Antelope
ADMISSION: $10 adults, $7 seniors (60-above), students (K-12), Children 5-under free