With its recent success at higher levels, Manteca is getting new opportunities to showcase itself on bigger stages.
This Saturday, the Buffaloes (2-1) are heading up to El Dorado Hills as one of six teams invited to participate in the NorCal Honor Bowl. They’ll tangle with upstart Rocklin (3-0) at 4 p.m. in a rematch of their Sac-Joaquin Section Division II semifinal won by Manteca.
At noon, Provo of Utah encounters Clovis East. Event host Oak Ridge caps the night with Clayton Valley Charter starting at 7.
Proceeds from the annual Honor Bowl series raises money for wounded veterans.
“The Honor Group reached out to us and it’s a great event that honors veterans,” Manteca coach Mark Varnum said. “It’s a good opportunity for our program to experience the very cool things that they do.”
Meanwhile, three other local schools are hosting, while Lathrop and Ripon Christian have byes to prepare for the start of their respective league schedules.
Varnum’s Buffaloes are smarting from the 44-7 drubbing they absorbed at St. Mary’s, arguably a top-three team in Northern California. Still without star running back Bryson Davis (elbow), Manteca was forced to spread the touches on offense. Ten different ball carries combined for just 94 yards, and quarterback Garrison Reis — he scored the Buffs’ lone touchdown on a short-yardage keeper — completed nine of 12 passes for 65 yards.
“We have a lot of dudes who want to get the ball in their hand,” Varnum said. “We’ll just kind of feed the hot hand. Whoever steps up will get their chances.”
Defensively, Manteca had a tough time with the Rams’ balanced spread, surrendering more than 400 yards.
“We gotta be better,” Varnum said “Our goal now is to play them (St. Mary’s) again in November. To do that, we have to win games like this Saturday.”
Manteca goes from one top team to another.
Despite graduating much of its standouts from the 2022 squad eliminated by the Buffaloes 34-28 in the playoffs, Rocklin is off and running with new and young cast of skill athletes such as 6-foot-2 sophomore quarterback Reeve Sloane.
After thumping Turlock and McQueen (Reno), the Thunder took care of Buchanan of Clovis, 42-20. Buchanan is one of the best out of the Central Section, and Rocklin rolled to a 35-6 lead at one point.
Rocklin is fourth in SJS, according to MaxPreps computer ratings, while Manteca has slipped to No. 9.
“They’re very well coached and playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Varnum said. “Obviously, we have to play our ‘A’ game.”
Sloane, who has an offer from Utah State, runs Rocklin’s balanced spread. Juniors Derek Keeley (222 yards, 7.2 per carry, five TDs) and Rafi Merino (222 yards, 8.2, four) split carries out of the backfield, and 6-4, 225-pound tight end/receiver Gavin Correia has been Sloane’s top target, so far.
The offensive line includes second-year junior tackle Garrison Blank. The 6-7, 315-pound behemoth has earned a three-star rating and holds six Division I offers.
Here’s a look at the three Week 3 contests taking place locally on Friday:
Enochs (2-1) at East Union (2-1): Through three weeks, EU sophomore Kirk Simoni is the leading passer in the SJS with 906 yards to go with 10 touchdowns.
The Lancers will get to put on the aerial assault in front of their home crowd at Manteca High after playing their first three on the road, most recently a 28-21 win at Ripon.
It’s tough to gauge their next opponent, which has blowout victories over winless opponents. The Eagles from Modesto blasted Buhach Colony 54-8 last week but were previously grounded by Liberty of Brentwood, 49-3. Liberty is perennial contender out of the North Coast Section.
Running back Aiden Muhammad (470 yards, 8.4 per carry, seven TDs) has been the main threat in Enochs’ shotgun offense
Armijo (3-0) at Sierra (2-1): The Timberwolves’ comeback came up short against Golden Valley in the first loss under new coach Jeff Abrew, but now they’re confronted by an even tougher task at home and with injuries to key players.
The Royals from Fairfield have had their way with opponents, so far, including East Union — one of Sierra’s cross-town rivals — in a 53-26 Week 0 blowout. They went on to wax Florin and Dixon by a combined 106-7 score.
Quarterback Willie Nickson (40 of 65, 758 yards, 11 TDs) and running back Zach Tayeh (527 yards, 9.4 per carry, five TDs), both juniors, star for Armijo’s explosive spread offense. The defense is led by 6-5, 305-pound Jericho Johnson, a four-star defensive lineman with 20 offers.
Calaveras (0-3) at Ripon (1-2): Ripon showed grit in its home-opening loss to East Union after going down by two scores in the first quarter.
The Indians have been challenged weekly by opponents with winning records, but their next two are still chasing their first victories. First up is Calaveras, tradition-rich program that has struggled to in recent years.
The Redhawks are looking to snap a 14-game skid, though two of their games last season were forfeited wins for use of an ineligible player.
Calaveras has struggled with turnovers, coughing up five last week — two returned for touchdowns — in a 42-0 loss to Ripon Christian.