Central Catholic may have been saving its best offensive weapon for Friday’s Valley Oak League showdown of unbeaten teams at Manteca High’s Guss Schmiedt Field.
Justin Rice burned and battered the Buffaloes for 280 yards and three touchdowns in the Raiders’ 28-6 victory. The two teams came in ranked in the Cal-Hi Sports Division III state poll — Central Catholic (4-0 VOL, 7-0 overall) at No. 3, and Manteca (3-1, 6-1) at No. 9.
The impressive 6-foot-2, 210-pound Fresno State commit had been sharing the load with junior Jared Rice (no relation) and had no more than 12 carries in a game. On Friday, Justin Rice toted it 29 times.
It’s not the first time Rice has given the Buffaloes fits. In last year’s VOL opener against Manteca, he ran for 129 yards, four touchdowns and scored the winning 2-point conversion in a thrilling 29-28 win for Central Catholic.
“Not that we were looking past any teams, but we were getting up for this game,” Rice said. “We were using other games to make sure we were ready for this one.”
Rice’s touches have been limited in part because of a Week 2 ankle injury that sidelined him for the Raiders’ pre-league finale. Central is also loaded at the skill positions. Jared Rice (six carries, 60 yards) shined early in Friday’s contest. His 41-yard-run on the Raiders’ first play of their second drive set up Justin’s 15-yard jaunt to the end zone on the next sequence. Columbia-bound quarterback Hunter Petlansky (2 for 6, 21 yards; six rushes, 14 yards) was largely kept in check, but he scored on a 3-yard read-option play in the third quarter to give CC a 21-6 cushion.
“Our goal was to keep them off balanced,” Rice said. “That just opened things up in the middle.”
Running with speed and power, Rice himself created openings that Manteca’s first six opponents could not. The Buffaloes’ stout defense had given up just 20 points, but it had yet to face a team near the caliber of Central Catholic’s. The Raiders outgained Manteca 392-172 with 371 yards coming on the ground.
“Central is a team that’s extremely talented,” Manteca coach Eric Reis said. “There’s not a weakness on that team.”
Manteca had momentum going into halftime down 14-6. Dakarai Charles connected with Jose Garcia on a deep pass that culminated in a 57-yard touchdown. It had a chance to strike again before the break but had an 11-play drive stall on the Central Catholic 24.
“The game at halftime was exactly how I wanted it,” Reis said. “We wanted the game to start slowing down; we wanted to establish something a little bit. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to build on that in the second half.”
The third quarter started rough for the Buffaloes. Charles was swarm tackled for a 3-yard loss on the first play from scrimmage and left the game with an apparent shoulder injury to his throwing arm. He later left the game for good early in the fourth quarter after taking a blow to the head on a 15-yard scramble.
“He took a shot and they were real cautious, but he was fine after the game,” Reis said. “I’m really encouraged by what I saw.”
Manteca’s offense never got into a rhythm and had just seven plays go for more than 10 yards. Charles was held to 3-of-13 passing for 81 yards along with 15 yards rushing. James Thomas and Darrion Kitson led Manteca running backs with 20 yards apiece.
“Credit them, they’re so good up front,” Reis said. “We had chances we just couldn’t quite get it going like we wanted. A little bit of it was on us but obviously a lot of them, too.”
Central Catholic could have won by a wider margin if not for a turnover deep in Manteca territory in the fourth quarter. On first-and-goal from the Manteca 8, lineman Justin Kakala tipped a Petlansky pass at the line of scrimmage and Ferrin Manuleleua came up with the interception.
Friday marked the start of Manteca’s toughest stretch of the season. Up next is a dangerous Lathrop squad coming off a 35-7 win over Weston Ranch. Then it’s on to Oakdale, which remains undefeated and is tough to beat at home.
“It doesn’t get any easier for us, for sure,” Reis said. “We just have to turn the page, learn from it and get better from here.”