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Buffs picked wrong time to play sloppiest game of season
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STOCKTON – Jacob LeDon cursed the night sky, his mighty Manteca Buffaloes helpless against the game clock.

With about a minute left in Saturday’s CIF State Division II Regional Championship, the Buffaloes found themselves on the wrong side of a 27-21 ledger and for the first time in months, completely out of options.

If they have plans to visit the StubHub Center in Carson this week for the CIF State Bowl games, it will be as fans. Not guests.

That invitation belongs to the Enterprise Hornets, whose black-and-yellow party kept the lights burning at Lincoln High’s Spanos Stadium long after the final whistle.

Know this about these Hornets, now 13-0: Talent travels.

Enterprise left the comforts of the North State, where victories have come all too easy for the two-time defending North Section champions, and ventured 200 miles south into the heart of the Central Valley … into the heart of Buffalo country.

They came by bus, SUV and RV, weaving through the multitude of Manteca tailgate parties that began popping up in the parking lot at Lincoln High in earnest around 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon.

They were behind enemy lines, to be sure, but played with the confidence and swagger of the home team`. Credit their leadership, coach Darren Trueblood and staff, but shine some praise on their on-field stewards, too.

Enterprise takes its cues from Isaiah Matthews, the overwhelming protagonist in this championship story.

In the days leading up to Saturday’s game, the hard-charging Matthews had been compared to every great running back Manteca has faced in the last two years – from Sacramento’s Lonny Powell to record-setting backs Ja’Quan Gardner and Anthony Cota.

In truth, for four frozen quarters, he was better than all three.

Matthews never left the field against the Buffaloes (13-2), ensuring Enterprise would play one last game.

He blasted the Buffaloes’ interior for 166 yards and two touchdowns, often lining up in the Wildcat, daring all 11 defenders to stop him. The junior also chased Alex Laurel all over the field, covered up a fumble, and befitting his grit, he wore no gloves on a night that demanded them.

Matthews was a star … the kind of hero every championship story needs. And this tale, this see-saw battle between deserving section champions, had its share of twists, turns and odd moments.

Twist No. 1: Manteca rocketed out to a 14-0 lead only to see it turned into a seven-point deficit during a stunning 4-minute stretch at the start of the second quarter.

Twist No. 2: The start of the third quarter was interrupted by Shoe-gate. Enterprise’s Izzy Perea returned the opening kickoff to the Hornet 23 and emerged from a pile of players without a cleat. Moments later, it was retrieved from the Manteca sideline – 30 yards away from the tackle.

The drive would end with the eventual game-winning touchdown, a 4-yard run by Jace O’Ravez.

And perhaps the most painful twist of all: Alex Laurel’s rare fumble with 10:13 left that seemed to define Manteca’s misfortune.

Laurel appeared to reach the ball across the goal line before it bounced out of the back of the end zone, but the officials thought otherwise.

The score would have tied the game at 27-all with Marcus Montano’s extra-point attempt forthcoming. Instead, Enterprise was given possession and Manteca was left to stomach another missed opportunity.

Here’s a twist you may have missed, though, one that foretold Manteca’s first loss in three months.

In the first half, as momentum hung in the balance, Enterprise wide receiver Jordan Deppe helped push the pendulum in the Hornets’ favor with not a catch or a run, but a series of blocks.

Deppe was locked onto a Manteca defensive back, who seemed none too thrilled by the extra attention.

Deppe kept attacking and attacking, forcing Manteca’s secondary to block through the whistle – away from the ball. Eventually, Deppe was sent flying out of bounds, his punishment, no doubt, for being a nuisance.

At that moment, it was clear: The Hornets weren’t just winning the battle on the field, but the one between the ears too. 

Unnerved and as uncomfortable as they’ve been all season, the Buffaloes failed to generate any real rhythm over the final two quarters.

Joe Menzel was short on a few crucial fourth-quarter throws, one of which was intercepted by Enterprise Justin Abney following a Manteca fumble recovery.

He later misfired on fourth-and-13 with four minutes left.

“That was probably the biggest emotional rollercoaster of the season,” Menzel said afterwards. “Other than the Central Valley game in the playoffs, where it was back and forth, this was worse because it wasn’t a shootout. This was us making our own mistakes.”

With near-freezing temperatures and a light mist settling onto the field, the Manteca Buffaloes, so flawless and dominant through four postseason games, experienced a rare meltdown of the mind.

The Buffaloes poked holes in their 14-0 cushion by affording Enterprise short fields and later sabotaged any hope of a comeback with costly turnovers.

Enterprise represented itself well, staggering Manteca with heavy doses of Matthews and its massive offensive and defensive lines.

If these regional bowl games have proven anything, it’s that talent travels. (Three of Friday’s four games were won by teams that traveled approximately 460 miles.)

But the Hornets had some help from a Buffalo bunch that picked the wrong time to play its sloppiest game of the season.

“We messed up (with) the penalties against us and just not playing Manteca High football psychologically,” Laurel said outside the locker room, fighting back tears. “That’s what ruined our game tonight.”