MODESTO — Manteca was able to slug it out with Central Catholic in Friday’s anticipated clash of Valley Oak League heavyweights at David Patton Field.
When it came down to a footrace, it wasn’t close.
Buoyed by the explosive playmaking abilities of Daron Bland and Jared Rice, the four-time reigning CIF state small schools champion Raiders dashed their way to a 32-14 win. The previously-undefeated Buffaloes (3-1 VOL, 6-1 overall) blew out their first six opponents by an average of 42.8 points, but on this drizzly night they were met by a different breed of athletes.
“I thought our physicality was huge tonight,” Manteca coach Eric Reis said. “Unfortunately, with the amount of turnovers we had it took us out of the way we wanted to play. Their skill position guys are better than us, and unfortunately we had to throw and they started making plays.”
Central Catholic (4-0, 5-2) forced four turnovers, but none were bigger than Bland’s 100-yard interception return in the final seconds of the first half. Manteca, trailing 18-14, was on the 1-yard line with a minute left, but false start and holding penalties — the latter of which negated Gino Campiotti’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Rachels — pushed the Buffs back to the 19.
Good fortune shined on Manteca on the next play with Rice dropping an interception on the 1. The Buffaloes weren’t going to get lucky twice, as Bland picked off a pass intended for Presley Keltner at the goal line and raced down the left sideline for the tide-turning play of the game.
“The play before the half was an absolute gut punch,” Reis said. “It was such a great game up until that play — that really hurt. We battled in the second half but that was the turning point in the game. Against a great football team you can’t make those kinds of mistakes and unfortunately we did.”
That was the last of Bland’s three highlights of the half. He earlier returned a kickoff 99 yards and turned a short bubble screen pass from Cole Petlansky( 4 of 9, 111 yards) into a 69-yard score.
“We have to get him the ball more, to be honest with you,” Central Catholic coach Roger Canepa said. “He had what, four touches and three touchdowns? That’s pretty good.”
The spry 5-foot-10, 165-pound Rice wasn’t too shabby himself. He led Central Catholic with 178 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. His 66-yard touchdown scamper on the first drive of the second half was the knockout blow. Central Catholic was facing a third-and-6 on the play.
“That was pretty much it,” Canepa said, “but in the second half we didn’t do as much as we wanted to offensively.”
Neither did Manteca, which was held to 50 yards over the final two periods.
It was a different story in the first half, as the Buffaloes outgained Central Catholic 204-171 and piled up 14 first downs against five given up. Kameron Beamon finished with 110 yards rushing and a touchdown, but 102 of them came in the first half.
Manteca was shut out over the final three quarters. It began as a shootout, with the two teams scoring three touchdowns on consecutive plays. The Buffaloes led 7-6 after Beamon’s 16-yard touchdown with 2:09 to go. Bland countered with the kickoff return, and Manteca quickly recaptured the lead on Joel Olmos’ 94-yard return.
“They’re a great football team and they played hard,” Canepa said of Manteca. “We made big plays. I think in the second half we might have wore them down a hair, but that first half was a great football game.”
Manteca struggled to get its passing game going. Campiotti completed just seven of 20 passes for 57 yards and threw three interceptions. Rice had a pick in the end zone in the second quarter, and in the third Josh Hamilton — aided by a batted ball by linebacker Logan Orlando at the line of scrimmage — ran one back 44 yards to paydirt, but the score was wiped away by a penalty.
“Like I told our guys, losing is something that burns at you,” Reis said. “We’ve got to get back at it. It’s a tough league and we have a lot of games left to play still. One game isn’t going to define us.”