Manteca isn’t looking ahead to a potential rematch with Christian Brothers in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.
Not with seventh-seeded American Canyon standing in the way.
The streaking Wolves (7-3) have the full attention of No. 2 Manteca (9-2), and the two will duke it out for the first time Friday at Guss Schmiedt Field. The Buffaloes shook off a sluggish start to roll past Rio Americano and its dangerous spread offense 62-21 in the opening round last week.
“Completely different animal this week,” Manteca coach Eric Reis said. “They’re well coached and league champs of a pretty good league that plays good football. We’re expecting to see some ‘A’-level talent.’”
American Canyon, travelling about 160 miles roundtrip from southern Napa County, has won seven straight after holding off No. 10 River Valley 17-10 in a slugfest in the opening round. The Wolves began the season on a three-game skid starting with a 36-34 overtime defeat against Woodland. They then dropped a 28-14 decision to Vintage of Napa and got thrashed by Sacramento power Inderkum 53-0 before running the table in the Solano County Athletic Conference.
Playing a key role in their turnaround is 5-foot-11, 202-pound fullback Eddie Byrdsong (623 yards, six touchdowns), junior a newcomer from Vintage who had to sit out the first three games of the season per CIF transfer rules.
“That changed their team,” Reis said. “They call him ‘Jr. Beast Mode’ and he is a load. That offense has to have that threat and he’s given it to them. He’s definitely a big part of what they’re doing.”
American Canyon runs a triple-option offense reminiscent of Sonora, a former Valley Oak League foe for Manteca. LaVar Seay stars at quarterback, and while he is a threat to chuck it downfield it is his running ability that gives defenses problems. He’s the team’s leading rusher with 876 yards (15.1 per carry) and 12 touchdowns.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Seay is also a terror on defense as a pass rushing outside linebacker who will keep Manteca quarterback Gino Campiotti and his standout tackles Kyle Reis and Mateo Fernandez on their toes.
“How many teams can stick their QB at outside linebacker?” coach Reis said. “And he’s very good at both positions. He’s got the size, the speed, can throw — he can do it all. Very, very talented kid.”
And with talent around him to keep a defense honest. Along with the hard-charging Byrdsong, American Canyon has speedsters in Kama Aalona (649 yards rushing, 263 receiving, seven total TDs) and Brenden Johnson (522 rushing yards, four TDs). Aalona is a standout at safety and as a special teams returner.
Two-way lineman Lucas Gramlick, who stands 6-7, 290 pounds, anchors the Wolves in the trenches.
Reis said it’s important for his team to come out hitting on all cylinders from the opening kickoff. Last week, Rio Americano recovered an onside kick to start the game and forced a turnover on Manteca’s second play from scrimmage.
“Give it to Rio Americano, they came out to win — from the onside kick, to blitzing everything, it’s what the playoffs are about,” Reis said. “Credit us for being able to take their best punch, but this week we can’t afford to do that. We can’t give up stuff against a team like American Canyon, because they can milk that clock.”
Manteca may be without its top running back in sophomore Trabron Russell. He’s a game-time decision after injuring an ankle in the third quarter of the Rio Americano game.
The winner at Guss Schmiedt Field will take on either No. 3 Christian Brothers or No. 11 Rio Linda. Manteca beat Christian Brothers 36-35 in a thrilling Week 1 barnburner.