A year ago, Manteca put an emphatic stamp on its fourth Sac-Joaquin Section championship with a runaway victory over a first-time finalist.
Blessed with size and senior talent, the Buffaloes rolled over Sacramento 49-6 in a driving rain at Spanos Stadium, setting a section record for margin of victory in a Division III title game.
Round 2 promises to be more of a dogfight.
No. 5 Sacramento looks to settle the score tonight when it travels to No. 4 Manteca. It’s yet another intriguing matchup in this loaded Division III bracket.
“We know the section final got out of hand. They were a great football team and some breaks went our way and things got pretty ugly,” Manteca coach Eric Reis said. “We know they want to beat us bad. We know we’ll get Sac High’s best (today). They’ll be more than motivated to beat us.”
The Dragons (9-2) haven’t changed much in a year’s time. Many of their principle players in 2013 are back and leading the hunt.
Sacramento has outscored its last two opponents 125-0, including an impressive 40-0 drubbing of Christian Brothers in the opening round.
Quarterback Caden Voges is fast-approaching his second 4,000-yard season and could top that mark with a big game tonight.
He’s thrown for 3,617 and 50 touchdowns, second only to heralded Folsom senior Jake Browning on the section’s leaderboard.
Voges’ top target is Kyron Basped, a 6-foot-3 speed merchant who has committed to San Jose State. Basped has 51 catches for 989 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Reis said the Dragons are relying less on the deep pass this season. Instead, Voges is getting the ball out quicker and allowing the athletes around him to create the big play.
In that offense, which Reis likens to Sierra’s spread, everyone is a threat. Six players have at least 17 receptions.
“Once he gets clicking, it’s tough to stop him,” Reis said of Voges. “We have to try different coverages, blitz him some, maybe make it look like a blitz. We got to make it so that he’s not comfortable out there.
“Teams where he knows what (defense) they’re in — he goes through them like butter.”
Manteca (9-2) disguised its looks well in last year’s section final and held Sacramento well below its season averages. The Buffaloes intercepted Voges twice and sacked him five times.
Senior Lechi Nkwocha recorded two of those sacks, and though his numbers are down this season, Reis believes he and Darrion Kitson can harass Voges.
Kitson began the season as a two-way player, splitting time in the backfield with Hector Soto, Nkwocha and Carl Chandler. But as the season has progressed, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound junior has become a full-time beast for defensive coordinator Rick James.
“He’s a guy that is capable of taking over,” Reis said of Kitson, who has five sacks and 51 tackles in nine games. “Those two are going to be really big. We need them to provide some rush.”
Of course, Sacramento knows all about the rush.
The Dragons feature the section’s premier sack artist in Lonny Powell, a Cal commit. The outside linebacker is second in the state and tops in the section with 22 sacks.
He was the Dragon’s best player in the D-III final, applying thunderous hits in the hole on both sides of the ball. He racked up 137 yards against the Buffaloes, a stat line Reis has not forgotten.
Reis wouldn’t be surprised to see Powell line up in the Wildcat formation, despite Sacramento’s reluctance to use him much through the first 11 games.
He has just 448 rushing yards and his 13 carries last week were a season-high.
“They got our attention,” Reis said.
The Buffaloes provide their own matchup problems.
Quarterback Dakarai Charles has running back roots and his shiftiness gives Manteca a dimension it lacked last season. The junior anchored a 49-14 victory over Vanden last week, throwing for 206 yards and totaling three touchdowns.
Soto and Nkwocha rushed for more than 100 yards, Ronaldo Tijero had a touchdown catch and Luis Reyes’ speed proved effective on special teams and third-and-long situations.
“The good thing is we’re playing our best ball at the end of the year,” Reis said. “No matter what happens, I know that we’re playing the best that we can.”