The Manteca High Buffaloes’ hard-fought Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinal 43-38-win Friday over visiting Christian Brothers was more about heart.
No one exemplified that better than two-way starter Rodrigo Gonzalez, who had three tackles including a fourth-down stop in the first half on defense against the Falcons.
At 5-foot-6, 189 pounds, he’s overshadowed in terms of size alongside teammates such as Justin Kakala (6-4, 270), Kyle Reis (6-3, 285), and Mateo Fernandez (6-3, 285), just to name a few.
When it comes to battling it out on the trenches, Gonzalez, who’s a speed rusher on defense and center on offense, holds his own against such players as Spencer Webb.
“I never look up and try to size up the opponent,” he said after holding his block against Christian Brothers’ 6-6, 232-pound standout defensive end.
Gonzalez added: “You have to play this game with heart.”
On defense, he and Rayshon Dozier, another unsung Manteca player, had the tough task of trying to contain Falcon standout quarterback Gunnor Faulk on this rollercoaster ride of a game.
Both speed rushers had Faulk stopped with 2:26 left in the game, converging on a sack with the Buffaloes sporting a 43-31 lead.
But just like that, Christian Brothers scored on a big play, cutting the deficit, 43-38, thanks to a 55-yard scoring play.
In the closing minute, the Buffaloes lost an onside kick, intercepted a pass (Dom Rea) and committed a penalty that put them teetering on their own goal line.
“We had to wait it out until the last snap,” said Gonzalez, who was aware of the field position.
Dozier, a 5-11, 170-pound outside linebacker who five tackles, deflected a pass at the line of scrimmage and came up with his usual big hits on special teams coverage, also had a sense of relief.
“This was a game of ups and downs,” he said. “I’m just happy that we’re going back to the section finals.”
Manteca coach Eric Reis praised his unsung heroes following the game.
On Rodrigo Gonzalez, he recalled: “Our starting center transferred to Lodi (the week of the Central Catholic game), and that was a painful one. We had a 6-foot-2, 240-pound center who had to move suddenly, and it was ‘Who was going to do it?’”
Yet he knew that Gonzalez had played some center. “He’s been the center since he took over,” Reis said.
For Dozier, he not only plays hard but had the uncanny ability against Christian Brothers to sniff out a couple of screen plays, Reis said of his 5-11, 168-pound senior defensive lineman.
Like Dozier, Gonzalez is looking forward to that return trip next Friday to the section finals at Lincoln High’s Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
“Last year, I didn’t play at all,” he said. “This time (against Oakdale), I might not get off the field at all.”