For as much as Manteca has achieved in recent years, there is one thorn that continues to prick at the Buffaloes' hides — Central Catholic.
While Manteca attempts to end its losing streak to the Raiders this Friday in Modesto, East Union aims to get a rare win in a lopsided series dominated by Oakdale. And in Tracy, Sierra looks to make it nine straight wins against Kimball.
The city’s three Manteca Unified programs are kicking off the VOL schedule this week after each endured their share of ups and downs through the first month of the season. Weston Ranch (1-2) has a league bye but faces Gregori on the road.
Manteca (2-2) undoubtedly has the toughest assignment to start. Central Catholic (3-1) has beaten the Buffaloes four straight years since rejoining the VOL in 2014 and is a heavy title favorite with its talent, depth and experience.
Their previous matchups were all competitive until Manteca's miscues and the Raiders' proficiency took over.
“It's like I told the guys, they are not going to make mistakes,” Manteca coach Mark Varnum said. “Unfortunately, in the past few years it was the combination of their talent and us making costly mistakes at the wrong time. We looked at the film from last year, and we turned the ball over three times at the goal line. For us, it's about being perfect in our execution and playing with high energy on Friday.”
The Buffaloes have good reason to feel confident.
Following back-to-back losses to Downey and Granada, they stampeded old-school rival Tracy 54-18 on homecoming night. Few would have been surprised if the result was flipped in Tracy's favor, especially with Manteca struggling with its play and injuries.
Varnum said starting tailback Trabron Russell, who injured an ankle in the Week 2 loss to Granada, is doubtful for the VOL opener, and that the Buffaloes will continue to ride converted receiver Jacob DeJesus. He racked up 215 yards and three touchdowns from scrimmage and capped his homecoming highlight reel with a 65-yard interception return.
“We're going to take it easy with Tra,” Varnum said. “I think Jacob filled in just fine.”
The rest of the Buffaloes weren’t so bad themselves. It was a much-needed win against a talented and tested Tracy team. A 1-5 start to the season was a possibility with Central Catholic and, after a bye, Oakdale up next.
“That was huge,” Varnum said. “Our backs were against the wall a little bit and we came out firing. Granada is a dang good team as is Downey. We still believed we’re a good football team and it came together on Friday night.
“More than anything, we matured and grew up quick. We have a lot of talent coming back but only one starter on defense with varsity experience. We took our lumps early, but I think that experience really helped and we were able to take care of business.”
And it’s back to business this Friday as Manteca tries to score an even bigger upset at David Patton Field. Central Catholic has impressive wins over Clovis West, St. Mary’s and Lincoln, and the loss is to NorCal giant and nationally-renown De La Salle.
The Raiders are stacked at most positions. Kyle Jacklich (361 yards, six TDs) has been the featured back in the I-formation offense in place of Division I prospect Dawaiian McNeely (shoulder), and they’ve employed two junior quarterbacks in Ceres transfer Dalton Durossette and Manteca resident Kyle Jackson.
Manteca is preparing to see Central Catholic at its best no matter who is starting where.
“They have plenty of dudes at certain positions,” Varnum said. “It’s not going to make or break their season with whoever they roll out there, we just have to line up right and play football.
“We’ve known going in that this is the gauntlet part of the schedule and we want to build off what we did on Friday. If we can play the way we did against Tracy maybe we can shock the world again.”
Here’s a look at other VOL openers:
Oakdale at East Union: Reeling from two tough losses in a row, the Lancers (1-3) don’t have the luxury of tuning up for the VOL’s “Big 3.”
They’ll get one right away in the form of Oakdale (3-1), a team that has a 24-game winning streak against East Union and a 40-9 all-time series lead. East Union does have an advantage in experience, as the Mustangs began the season with 22 new starters.
The young guns, including sophomore running back Zeke Saffar, have proven to be up to the task, so far. They opened 2018 with a 49-0 drubbing of rival Sonora and are coming off a 28-20 win over Chaparral of Colorado. Their loss is to San Jose power Archbishop Mitty, ranked No. 15 in the MaxPreps Northern California top 25.
Sierra at Kimball: With only two seniors in the newly-implemented triple-option offense, Sierra (2-2) is taking a one-at-a-time approach this year.
The youthful Timberwolves have bought in, and they turned in a defensive gem in a 19-7 win over district rival Lathrop. Kimball (2-2) also has also beaten Lathrop, 27-26, but surrendered 471 yards in the process. The Jaguars, led by first-year coach and Manteca High grad Mike Kuhnlenz, took advantage of five turnovers.
History sides with Sierra in this matchup. The T’wolves have won all eight of their previous meetings, and only one was decided by a single-digit margin.