Manteca won on the stat sheet Saturday.
The Buffaloes beat St. Francis on offensive yards (367-352), held overwhelming advantages in the possession (73 plays ran to 46 for the Lancers) and turnover (3-1) battles and produced more first downs (23-13) in the CIF Northern California Division II-A Regional Championship Bowl Game at Guss Schmiedt Field.
The scoreboard tells a different story: St. Francis 28, Manteca 23.
The difference? Running back Darrell Page and the Lancers’ terrifying defensive front featuring U.S. Army All-American Tyler Manoa, a 6-foot-5, 285-pound nose guard, and 6-4, 240-pound three-star outside linebacker Junior Fehoko, who is drawing interest from Cal and several other NCAA Division I schools.
Page galloped his way to 220 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries, while Manoa and Fehoko accounted for two of their team’s three sacks.
The Buffaloes (12-3) were also physically outmatched in their 2016 NorCal Bowl Game against Menlo-Atherton, which rolled to a 49-21 win, but on Saturday they stayed within reach of the parochial powerhouse from Mountain View and the challenging West Catholic Athletic League until Nicholas Robinson recovered an onside kick to seal it for the Lancers.
St. Francis (10-4) advances to a state title game for the second time in three years and faces Grace Brethren (13-2) of Simi Valley next Saturday, Dec. 16 at Sacramento State. Grace Brethren ousted previously-unbeaten Aquinas of San Bernardino 24-8 in the Division II-A SoCal regional.
Manteca fell to 0-3 in NorCal appearances.
“Hats off to them, that’s a very good football team and we were able to battle until the bitter end,” Manteca coach Eric Reis said. “I’m proud of our kids. We had a great season. It was a great year for Manteca football for what we’ve accomplished.
“That school has more kids than us as a private school,” he added. “We accomplished a lot, and these kids should be really proud of what they did.”
Manteca quarterback Gino Campiotti — who passed for 12 touchdowns and ran for 10 more in the Buffaloes’ four-game jaunt to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III title — was often forced into hurling hurried and inaccurate passes throughout. He absorbed several big shots, too, a few delivered by Fehoko.
Despite the relentless pressure, Campiotti accumulated 314 yards and a pair of scores on 24-of-46 passing, though he was limited in the run game (10 rushes, 1 yard).
“I’ve never been hit like that before,” Campiotti said. “Time and time again I was getting hit. I told my O-line I know you guys are giving it everything you got. These guys have offers from everywhere and they are playing in Army All-American Bowls and stuff. That’s just skill level. Our guys battled.
“I said I’ll take a beating all night for you. As long as they gave their everything, no matter the result I was going to give my everything. I was going to take those hits and try to throw the best balls that I could throw. A few times it got out of hand, my throws were a little wild, but I think everyone just battled.”
Campiotti was on the mark on his final official throw, hitting sophomore Jacob DeJesus (seven receptions, 115 yards) for a 35-yard touchdown up the middle. His ensuing two-point conversion toss fell incomplete.
“We can rush the passer pretty good and we tried to keep in our lanes and get some pressure on him so that he didn’t have all day (to throw),” St. Francis coach Greg Calcagno said. “When he has all day he can pick people apart. He still did a great job against us, but for us, fortunately, we were able to get some pressure on him and have him get rid of it a little bit faster than he probably wanted to.”
St. Francis gained control at the start, forcing Manteca to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Campiotti on the 17-play opening drive. Campiotti was crushed by a blindside hit from Fehoko on an incomplete pass right before the field goal try.
Page rambled for a 47-yard gain on St. Francis’ first play from scrimmage, and Robinson plowed his way in from a yard out to give the Lancers the lead for good. After the defense held the Buffaloes to a three-and-out, Page scored on a 51-yard run that put him past the 100-yard mark with still 3:20 left in the first quarter.
“We certainly wanted to come out and start strong,” Calcagno said. “We knew we were playing away (from home) in a big game and we wanted to get some momentum on our side. We knew it could be a long game with how they’re able to throw the ball and they throw it so darn well, so it was important for us to get off to a good start.”
Undeterred by the 14-3 deficit, Manteca answered on the next series with Trabron Russell’s 4-yard run early in the second quarter. The sophomore tailback ended as Manteca’s leading rusher with 36 yards on 11 attempts.
Manteca’s defense forced turnovers — the first two were interceptions by sophomore call-up Dom Rea and Matthew Ender in Buffaloes territory late in the first half — on three of St. Francis’ next four drives but were unable to turn any of them into points.
“Our defense kept us in it against a very good offense,” Reis said.
St. Francis quarterback Reed Vettel (8 of 15, 119 yards) capped the first drive of the second half with a 3-yard strike to Evan Williams (four receptions, 43 yards), but Manteca countered 1 minute, 21 seconds later when Carter Williams (six receptions, 93 yards) made an outstanding grab with a vertical leap in the back corner of the end zone.
The Buffaloes’ defense came up big again after Page, who kick started the drive with a 48-yard, fumbled in the red zone. Harvard commit Justin Kakala, Manteca’s own standout lineman, recovered it.
Manteca could not hold the momentum for long. A failed halfback pass went awry, Fehoko recorded his sack and Campiotti overthrew a pass to wide-open fullback Michael Frisby in the flats on successive plays.
“We went for the juggular and went for the toss pass and lost yardage,” Reis said. “I thought that was a swing in the game that was pretty big.”
Manteca missed another big opportunity on its next drive. Threatening to cut into a 28-17 deficit from the St. Francis 25, Fehoko ripped the ball away from Campiotti on a designed quarterback keeper, and 300-pound sophomore lineman Afa Sanft recovered the fumble.
“I don’t think he was carrying it loosely, the guy just made a play,” Reis said.
Manteca made plays too in the final game of one of the storied program’s most successful teams. Junior wide receiver Jorge Cedano (eight catches, 81 yards) said that Saturday’s effort was proof the Buffaloes “can play with anybody,” and even though the team loses much experience to graduation it can get back to this point next season.
Manteca will have to replace third-year starters in linebacker Ferrin Manuleleua, two-way lineman Kyle Reis, Campiotti and Kakala. Reis and Kakala are also two of four outgoing starting offensive linemen.
“We got a lot of people coming back, though, that’s the thing,” Cedano said. “I feel like if we just keep grinding in the offseason that we can get back to where we were this year, it’s just going to take a little bit more because Gino is such a big playmaker and we’re going to miss that dude so much. It’s going to be hard to get a spot like that filled in. He did so much for us.”