From social media banter to Manteca captains refusing to shake hands with East Union’s before the game, the oldest rivalry in the city was turned up a notch in their 51st meeting Friday at Guss Schmiedt Field.
Both teams are heading to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs following Manteca’s commanding 46-17 win. The Buffaloes (5-2, 8-2 overall) wrapped up third place and the final automatic postseason berth in the Valley Oak League.
“This has really been the first year it has really been a rivalry,” Manteca coach Eric Reis said. “With Sierra being so good our kids have never really taken it to the level (against East Union) it was this week to where it was on. That’s where you saw the emotions get a little out of control. That part was not so fun.”
There were 38 penalties in all (two were declined), including 11 personal fouls and unsportsmanlike-conduct infractions. Manteca had two touchdowns negated by penalties, including Jacob DeJesus’ electric 70-yard punt return early in the second quarter.
Both offenses were still able to produce, with Manteca totaling 481 yards against 287 for the Lancers (4-3, 7-3).
“I think we had 200 yards on one drive,” Reis said. “That doesn’t happen too often in high school, and we still scored.”
His Buffaloes churned out their most balanced effort of the season. Sophomore running back Trabron Russell tallied a season-high 212 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries, while quarterback Gino Campiotti completed 13 of 17 passes for 188 yards and three scores. Campiotti also kicked a 28-yard field goal.
Manteca led 17-3 at halftime and focused on the ground game in the third quarter to extend its lead. Russell scored on a 29-yard burst up the middle and found the end zone again while untouched on a 40-yard scamper to make it 31-10 with 7 seconds left in the period.
“It was really about my line, they (created) the holes and I just sprinted to it,” Russell said. “My fullback (Michael) Frisby told me ‘I’m going to kick them out and the hole is going to be there.’ It was really a team effort.
“It’s really important (to be balanced), because in the playoffs if teams see that we can’t run the ball they’re going to stay back in coverage and Gino won’t be able to throw. Now they have to label both of us a threat.”
The Buffaloes also had their way through the air. After the first two plays on their opening drive, Campiotti led them out of a second-and-32 hole from the Manteca 7 and later hooked up with Carter Williams (four catches, 64 yards, two TDs) for a 31-yard touchdown.
Jorge Cedano (five catches, 64 yards) was on the receiving end of the game’s final scoring sequence, a nifty 16-yard snag over a defensive back followed by a two-point conversion with 2:01 to go.
East Union had its share of highlights against a defense that has shut out three opponents this season, including a 63-0 waxing of Sierra last week.
The Lancers’ two touchdown drives were the best in the game. On their second series of the second half, they chomped 7 minutes, 34 seconds off the clock with quarterback JoJo Espinosa punching it in on a 1-yard keeper on the 16th play.
In the fourth, Espinosa connected with Tony Martinez for a 6-yard touchdown pass, completing a 10-play drive aided by two pass-interference penalties on Manteca.
With the Buffaloes shutting down East Union’s potent ground attack, Espinosa accounted for much of the Lancers’ offense. He completed his first eight passes, finishing 16 of 24 for 151 yards. He also had 84 yards on 14 carries and nearly eclipsed the century mark until he was dropped by Manteca Ferrin Manuleleua and Caden Ramsey for an 11-yard sack on the final play of the game.
“Teams know we’re a dual threat now,” Espinosa said. “Teams know that we can pound the ball but we can throw the ball a little bit and spread it out. I think this is going to get us ready for playoffs. Playing a great team like Manteca just boosts another confidence going into the playoffs. “We’re in one of the toughest leagues in California. This preps us real well for the playoffs.”
As well as East Union moved the ball offensively, two lost fumbles — recovered by Manteca defensive backs Kyle Rachels and Matthew Ender — helped the Buffaloes to gain separation. The Lancers had a chance to answer Manteca’s first touchdown with one of their own, but Espinosa fumbled inside the 10 on a 21-yard run.
“We proved that we can drive and score, but turnovers killed some of our drives and we were moving the ball,” East Union coach Willie Herrera said. “I felt defensively we could hang, for about four or five seconds. (Against) a good O-line giving very good protection for a very good quarterback, it’s tough to cover anybody for seven or eight seconds.
“Our guys gave a valiant effort, they didn’t quit,” he added. “I would like to say (Manteca) didn’t get anything easy, they worked for everything they got. I’m proud of our guys. I think we learned some things about ourselves and we just need to use that in our favor for next week.”
The SJS will release postseason brackets with an online selection show through the NFHS Network today starting around 4 p.m.