The lights to Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium remained lit hours after a rivalry was put to rest early Saturday morning.
Manteca High came on in waves on Sierra’s home field, earning the outright Valley Oak League championship with a 35-14 victory.
The Buffaloes scored 28 unanswered after falling behind 7-0 in the first quarter. Running back Alex Laurel turned on the jets, the defense turned up the heat and the game turned on its head.
Laurel scored four touchdowns, including one that had media crews and sideline guests reaching for their cell phone cameras.
Officially, the third-quarter scoring run is chronicled as a 16-yard scamper. But the nearly 5,000 in attendance can attest: He covered half the county with that carry.
Manteca’s flashy back took a pitch right and appeared bottled up along the home sideline. He doubled back, picking up crunching blocks as he sprinted toward the visitor’s sideline.
There, he found a lane, juking one Sierra defender before diving into the end zone.
Laurel shined under those lights, but that they stayed lit well past the midnight hour reminds us that there were others heroes, other moments.
Here’s a look at some of the unsung heroes from Friday’s Manteca-Sierra showdown:
•Laurel’s catch-me-if-you-can touchdown was equal parts ability, instincts and timely blocking. Which is to say, he couldn’t do it alone.
• Running back Michael Gonzalez delivered a booming hit on an unsuspecting Sierra lineman near the middle of the field. Moments later, tight end Michael Hatfield sealed the edge with another blindside block, green-lighting Laurel’s path.
•Reid Maestas wasn’t much of a factor over the final three quarters, but the Sierra running back was instrumental in the game’s opening score. He converted an early third down, extending a drive that finished with a 10-yard touchdown grab by Hunter Johnson. He also had a 9-yard carry, his longest of the game.
•Manteca senior Nick Gatehouse nearly matched his season totals in catches (5) on Friday with three receptions for 40 yards, both team highs.
He was targeted a fourth time on Dom Pisano’s halfback pass in the second quarter, but couldn’t hang onto the ball in the corner of the end zone. Later, Gatehouse, who also carried the ball once for 4 yards, downed a punt at the Sierra 1.
“He’s played well the last few weeks. We’re fortunate enough to have a number of guys who can make plays,” Manteca offensive coordinator Neil MacDannald said.
Still, “it’s nice to see a kid have some success after having such a great attitude the last few years.”
•Manteca linebacker Lechi Nkwocha was a candidate for Defensive Player of the Game, finishing with two sacks and a fumble recovery.
•Sierra defensive back Tyler Lewis picked off Joe Menzel on the opening possession of the second half, stepping in front of a pass at the Sierra 16.
•The Timberwolves have found an anchoring point in sophomore Josh Fala. The tall, athletic lineman harassed Menzel early and was rewarded with a second-quarter sack.
•Though the final three quarters were a struggle, Sierra High coach Jeff Harbison and offensive coordinator Jeff Abrew scripted a near-perfect opening possession.
Jake Pruitt completed 9 of 11 passes on the drive to five different receivers. The Timberwolves converted four third downs and chewed up more than 6 minutes of game clock, silencing the Buffalo sideline.
Devin Nunez had the big catch on the drive, hauling in a 25-yard toss on third-and-16.