Manteca head coach Mark Varnum got to watch his next opponent live last week and came away impressed with what he saw from both teams on the field that night.
Fifth-seeded Vista del Lago held off No. 12 River Valley 14-13 in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoff opener and will head to Manteca this Friday. The Eagles (9-2) of Folsom took the lead for good on the conversion kick following Nik Goodwin’s 42-yard pass to Carson King with 3:23 remaining.
While 12th-seeded River Valley (4-7) narrowly missed out on an upset win, its cross-town rival Yuba City (7-4) — seeded 10th — clobbered No. 7 Christian Brothers, 54-19.
None of it surprises Varnum, whose team was bumped up to the stacked Division III bracket after winning a share of the Valley Oak League championship.
“River Valley made a run to the semifinals last year as an 11 seed, so that’s a good program,” Varnum said. “This bracket is loaded top to bottom.”
It will be the first-ever football meeting between the No. 4 Buffaloes (8-2) and Vista del Lago. Manteca has won eight of its last nine section playoff games, earning the Divisions IV and III titles in 2016 and 17, respectively.
Like the Buffs, Vista is battle-hardened by a tough schedule. The Eagles’ two losses were to Capital Athletic League rival Capital Christian, 21-7, and Placer, 45-34 — the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in Division III. They have notable wins over postseason qualifiers Ponderosa, Casa Roble, Del Campo and Christian Brothers.
Vista del Lago has one of the section’s top rushers in 6-foot, 185-pound junior Ethan Menezes, who scampered for 1,608 yards and 16 touchdowns in the regular season.
“They spread it out and have a lot of good athletes, but their running back is one of the best in the section,” Varnum said. “He’ll be a tall task for our defense. They’re well coached and well disciplined. Hopefully we can match up with them.”
Menezes rushed for 104 yards and caught five passes for 53 in the win over River Valley but was kept out of the end zone. Goodwin passed for 202 yards and two touchdowns, the first of which went to 6-2, 210-pound receiver Zach Corbitt.
Manteca was awarded a bye for the first round. Varnum isn’t concerned about any rust that may come with the break, even though the Buffs rolled into the postseason with a five-game winning streak in which they outscored opponents 321-82.
The coach added that his returning players remain motivated by their mistake-filled 20-8 second-round loss at Antelope last season.
“Our goal all along was getting that bye and to stay home for as long as possible,” Varnum said. “We told our seniors that unless crazy things happen this is their last time playing a game on this field. I’ve been happy with the level and tempo of our practices this week, and having a more veteran team they know we can’t waste a practice or a rep. I think we’ll be ready to roll on Friday.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Vista del Lago (9-2) vs. Manteca (8-2)
WHAT: Sac-Joaquin Section Division III quarterfinal
WHEN: Friday, 7 p.m. kickoff
WHERE: Guss Schmiedt Field, Manteca High
ADMISSION: $12 adults, $8 seniors (65-above)/military, $5 students (K-12), children 5-under free