That Downey game is in the rear-view mirror as far as Manteca is concerned.
On Saturday, the Buffaloes (11-2) head to Oakland for their CIF State Northern California Division II-A Bowl Game against McClymonds (10-0). Each played the Knights from Modesto in non-league contests, and the differing results may serve as a gauge in sizing up the two public-school powers.
Back on Aug. 30, Manteca traveled to Downey and came up on the short end of a wild 54-48 overtime finish. The Buffs battled back from a 15-0 deficit, led 48-34 with 7 minutes remaining and walked away from Chuck Hughes Stadium with the first of two early-season heartbreakers.
Three weeks later, they opened the Valley Oak League season with a 27-26 loss to Central Catholic but have since strung together eight straight victories, including last Saturday’s 33-14 pasting of Placer in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III final. Manteca owns seven SJS crowns and will play in its fourth NorCal Bowl Game.
“It was a perfect storm when we played (Downey), but we drew from that experience and learned a lot about ourselves,” Manteca coach Mark Varnum said. “We’re a completely different team now. We’re hitting our stride at the right time.”
McClymonds’ Sept. 20 meeting with visiting Downey was far less dramatic — a 55-6 throttling. The Warriors went on to shut out each of their Oakland Athletic League opponents and claimed a 10th consecutive “Silver Bowl” championship with a 42-9 win over Skyline on Nov. 30. Mack finished this decade with a perfect 70-0 record in the OAL.
McClymonds was tested early in the season, knocking off three teams that wound up with double-digit win totals and finished as runners-up in the North Coast Section playoffs — Marin Catholic (11-2), Encinal (11-2) and Campolindo (10-3).
While Manteca is looking to win its first regional game, the Warriors are two wins away from garnering a fourth straight state championship after earning the first three at lower-competitive divisions.
“Tons of athletes, tons of speed and a great history,” Varnum said of what his team is up against. “I’m really impressed with what we saw on film. We’re hoping that our style of football is something they haven’t seen in their recent games.”
The Buffaloes are traditionally a smash-mouth team but have been able to air it out with talented quarterbacks and receivers in the passing game in recent years. They went old school in the section title game against Placer and rode running back Trabron Russell’s 225 yards and four touchdowns to victory. Russell, incidentally, grew up in Oakland and would have attended McClymonds had he not moved to Manteca.
The rain and wind prevented the Buffaloes from getting standout Jacob DeJesus and the passing attack untracked on Saturday. Finding ways to get him and fellow receiver Sunny Dozier — they’ve combined for nearly 2,000 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns — involved will be key no matter what the conditions are Saturday.
They haven’t seen a defensive backfield as talented as what they’ll encounter at Belford Stadium. Edward Woods, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound cornerback, leads the secondary and holds offers from USC and Arizona State. Fellow senior Montrell Smith and third-year junior DaVeonne Sanders are also generating interests from Division I programs. James Willoughby, a 6-4, 240-pound defensive end, has an offer from San Jose State.
“It’s going to be a great test for Sunny, Jacob and Ryan (Ward, Manteca’s quarterback),” Varnum said. “We’ll see what they can do and hopefully, weather permitting, they can get loose a little bit. We definitely have added some wrinkles this week because we want to get (DeJesus) more involved. We know what Tra is able to do, but we want to spread the wealth and give them something else to worry about.”
Sanders was among the Warriors’ stars in their Silver Bowl victory, catching three passes for 69 yards and a touchdown while adding a pick-six on the defensive side. Smith also starts at running back alongside 5-10, 215-pound Gary Alexander Jr. and sophomore quarterback Dreyan Paul. Among Paul’s top targets is 6-4 receiver Arrion Hughes.
McClymonds averages 48 points per game.
“They run a lot of pistol, and with all those athletes they can hurt you in a hurry and put up a lot of points,” Varnum said. “With the way our defense has been playing, I think they can step up like they have the last couple of weeks.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Manteca (11-2) vs. McClymonds (10-0)
WHAT: CIF State Division II-A NorCal Regional Bowl Game
WHEN: Saturday, 6 p.m. kickoff
WHERE: William Belford Stadium, McClymonds HS, Oakland
ADMISSION: $12 general, $8 children/students (ASB card)/seniors. Advance tickets available online at https://gofan.co/app/school/CIF