Sierra was two wins away from its first 10-0 regular-season finish.
Standing in the way of history was Manteca, which was already out of the running for the Valley Oak League title.
It was on the muck at Manteca’s Guss Schmiedft Field where the Timberwolves’ dream season began to crumble last year. Star running back Mark Paule Jr. was limited to a season-low 56 yards, and Manteca celebrated the VOL upset of 2014, with a 34-20 win. It was also the only game that Paule — one of the state’s scoring leaders last year — was held without a touchdown. The rain-drenched field helped to slow Sierra’s prolific spread offense on that murky Halloween night, but Manteca had to play in it, too.
“We’re still hungry from what happened last year,” Paule said. “We want to come out victorious like any other game.”
This, of course, isn’t like any other game. A healthy rivalry has developed between the two schools, and although Manteca — which boasts a 14-6 record against Sierra — has won four of the last five meetings each game has been meaningful and most were competitive.
Manteca coach Eric Reis expects more of the same Friday night at Sierra’s Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium. This time, the Buffaloes come in with the perfect record at 5-0 (2-0 in the Valley Oak League), while Sierra (1-1, 3-2) fights to stay alive in the hunt for a playoff berth. The game will be televised Sunday night starting at 7 on Comcast channel 104.
“We’re not stupid, I know they want to beat us in the worst way,” Reis said. “We’re expecting their absolute best and we know they’re capable.”
After struggling offensively in its first four contests, Sierra broke through in a big way last week, spoiling East Union’s homecoming with a 54-28 victory. The Timberwolves were coming off a 54-14 loss at Oakdale in a battle between the league’s defending co-champs.
“The offense really came together during that game,” Paule said. “We want to take all that momentum into this week. All of our guys are pumped to have another great game.”
Paule racked up a season-high 200 yards (161 rushing) of offense to go with three touchdowns against East Union, but it was the breakout performance from junior Mark Vicente that has Manteca’s attention. Vicente completed 10 of 12 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 73 yards and three more scores.
Paule was “a little banged up,” as he put it, in the East Union game, as he sat out the entire fourth quarter while Marcos Castillo and Brandon Arreola took over at running back. He expects to be ready for Friday’s grudge match.
“Sierra will be a difference challenge for us,” Reis said. “They always run their offense really well. Their quarterback has come a long way since we saw them over the summer. He’s throwing the ball really well and is obviously very athletic and can hurt you on the run.”
Sierra will be Manteca’s toughest test so far, with undefeated Central Catholic and Oakdale looming in two of the next three weeks. The Buffaloes’ strength has been their defense, which blanked Weston Ranch 29-0 last Friday for their third shutout of the season. The 12 points they’ve given up were fourth-quarter touchdowns in lopsided victories over Buhach Colony and Enochs.
The defense has thrived despite starting three sophomores, and junior James Thomas has blossomed as a playmaker at inside linebacker. They’ve blended in nicely with veteran seniors Daniel Brand, Javaun Dunn, Darrion Kitson, Marcus Rivas and Ronaldo Tijero.
“We’re fast,” Reis said. “We have someone who can run at every position. It’s definitely one of our more athletic groups. Our inside backers, Ferrin (Manuleleua, one of the sophomores) and James Thomas, have played amazing.”
Also in Week 6 action:
uWeston Ranch hosts East Union for homecoming and a pivotal showdown for both teams. Both started the season at 3-0 but are coming off tough losses to begin the VOL. The Cougars played Manteca tough in a 29-0 defeat last week but will look to get speedy RB Erron Duncan (498 yards, six TDs) back on track. East Union is in a tough spot with the VOL’s remaining undefeated teams — Oakdale, Central Catholic and Manteca — still left on its schedule. The Lancers can score points with Jack Weaver (995 yards, eight TDs passing; 244 yards, six TDs rushing) leading the charge, but the defense has surrendered 36.5 points per game in the last four weeks.
uRipon Christian (1-1, 4-1) continues its march through Southern League play at Waterford (0-2, 2-3) on Friday. Waterford lost to Mariposa and Gustine by a combined score of 90-13 in its first two league contests. The Knights have a chance to pick up some momentum before hosting unbeaten Gustine next week.