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Buffs clinch outright VOL championship
Mantecas Alex Laurel breaks through the Sierra defense - photo by HIME ROMERO

Alex Laurel didn’t disappoint a capacity crowd Friday at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium, a game that would decide the Valley Oak League champion.

Manteca’s senior standout scored four touchdowns, including three in the second quarter, en route to a 25-carry, 162-yard performance.

Laurel later highlighted the night with a Barry Sanders-like touchdown run in the third quarter that sent Manteca on its way to a 35-14 victory.

“(Sierra) brought it and they played at a high level,” Manteca head coach Eric Reis said, “but we have a championship team, and you saw that tonight.”

Sierra (4-2 VOL, 6-3) mounted a solid drive to begin the game. The Timberwolves marched 80 yards and senior Jake Pruitt capped it by finding Hunter Johnson on a 10-yard touchdown toss.

Pruitt tossed two touchdowns, including a 26-yard strike to Bryson Sanders in the fourth quarter, but also had two interceptions.

The Manteca (6-0, 8-1) running game and offensive line were in sync, and the Buffaloes capitalized on a handful of Sierra mistakes.

Manteca tied the game at 7-7 midway through the second quarter with a 5-yard scamper from Laurel.

On Sierra’s next possession, Pruitt hooked up with Sanders (nine catches, 97 yards, TD), who coughed the ball up and Manteca junior Lechi Nkwocha recovered.

That giveaway turned into a 22-yard score by Laurel exactly one minute after the Buffaloes’ last score.

“We’re champions, and it feels wonderful,” said Laurel, who made it 21-7 with 42 seconds left in the first half from 31 yards out. “Sierra couldn’t stop (our running game).

“We have another business trip next week, then playoffs.”

Manteca quarterback Joe Menzel (7 for 13, 73 yards, TD) threw his only interception of the game to start the second half. However, Sierra couldn’t capitalize as Pruitt gave the ball right back with a pick of his own on the ensuing possession.

After both teams traded punts, Laurel found the end zone for a fourth time with less than three minutes remaining in the third quarter with an amazing run. Laurel went right on the toss, and then completely reversed the ball. He received three key blocks, finding a lane along the left sideline.

“You can’t make mistakes against a good football team,” Sierra head coach Jeff Harbison said. “We had some unfortunate penalties that prolonged drives for them, and we made some silly mistakes. Overall, you can’t turn the ball over against a good football team. Hats off to Manteca High School, they played a great game tonight.”

The Buffaloes’ defense stepped up and rattled Pruitt and Sierra’s spread offense and didn’t let the standout slinger get comfortable or into any type of rhythm.

“We had a game plan,” said Nkwocha, who also had two sacks. “Coach (Reis) said ‘go after the quarterback, go after the quarterback.’ We hit, they quit. That’s it.”