ATHERTON — Menlo-Atherton proved to be too big, too fast and too good.
Manteca didn’t have an answer for running back Jordan Mims and the rest of the Bears, who warded off a late comeback attempt and raced to a 49-21 win Friday in the CIF State Division III-AA Northern California Regional Bowl Game at Coach Parks Field.
Mims rambled for 272 yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries, while quarterback Aajon Johnson (7 of 15 passing, 67 yards) added 96 yards on the ground and two scores of his own.
The 6-foot, 190-pound Mims — who has offers from Sacramento State, Fresno State, San Jose State and Eastern Washington — sealed it with a 72-yard touchdown dash with 6:25 remaining, pushing the streaking Bears’ (12-2) lead to 42-21. He hit paydirt for the last time from 3 yards out with 2:49 to go shortly after Manteca (12-2) committed its third turnover.
Paraclete (11-4) of Lancaster downed Mater Dei Catholic (12-2) of Chula Vista and will square off with Menlo-Atherton for the state’s Division III-AA crown next Saturday, Dec. 17.
“They have some very good players, for sure, some slippery guys with speed,” Manteca coach Eric Reis said.
In truth, the game was decided in the trenches, where the Buffaloes usually have the advantage with the likes of juniors Kyle Reis (6-2, 257) and Justin Kakala (6-4, 270) anchoring the line. Menlo-Atherton countered with Ben Makoni (6-3, 305), Epeli Mataele (5-11, 301), Curtis Francis (6-0, 260) and sophomore Noa Ngalu (6-2, 250), to name a few.
“Up front we just ran into a brick wall,” Manteca quarterback Gino Campiotti said. “Central Catholic met us up front, but this is the best d-line we’ve seen, by far. They never quit, they never got tired. Every play they came at us 100 miles per hour.”
With Menlo-Atherton shutting down the run game, the Buffaloes once again relied on the passing attack to move the offense. Campiotti enjoyed a career-best night in Manteca’s 50-28 triumph over Placer in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV title game, but on Friday he and the Buffaloes could not keep pace with the Central Coast Section’s Open Division I champion.
Kameron Beamon led Manteca rushers with 50 yards on 12 attempts.
“We feel like we have some good players up front,” M-A coach Adhir Ravipati said. “We challenged them and they showed up today. Manteca is a downhill running football team and I felt like we were able to get them out of that.”
Campiotti — whom Ravipati likens to Brett Favre — completed 21 of 38 passes for 310 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He connected with Joel Olmos (three receptions, 70 yards) on a 56-yard bomb late in the opening quarter to tie it at 7-7. It ended the Menlo-Atherton defense’s streak of scoreless quarters at 10.
The Bears, who have won 12 straight since dropping their first two contests of the season, appeared to be on their way to an easy win after Johnson busted a 55-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, giving M-A a 27-7. The margin ballooned to 35-7 after Johnson scored again — this time from 18 yards out — and completed the conversion pass to Aaron Johnson.
Manteca didn’t go away quietly.
The Buffaloes strung together 14 unanswered points on Campiotti’s 35- and 20-yard strikes to Presley Keltner (four catches, 122 yards), and their confidence continued to swell after defensive back Kyle Rachels came up with an interception. On the Bears’ previous drive, Gerson Gomez picked off a pass to set up Keltner’s second TD catch.
“When they scored on that first play (in the second half), oh my gosh, what a gut check,” Reis said. “Our guys didn’t quit. We got down two scores with the ball, unfortunately tonight they were the better team.”
The two teams traded three-and-out possessions, and on Manteca’s last chance to make a game of it Campiotti — who earlier threw a pick in the end zone — was off the mark with a pass intended for Jose Garcia (11 receptions, 120 yards) on fourth-and-9 on the Menlo-Atheton 24.
Two plays later, Mims iced it with his explosive 72-yard jaunt.
“Those turnovers really sparked us,” Campiotti said. “They were kind of momentum changers for a minute, but when you play a team this good momentum doesn’t last. It can only take you so far.”
Manteca has made it this far twice in the last four years, but both had the same result. The Buffs aim to get over the hump next year when their talented junior class, starring Campiotti and linebacker Ferrin Manuleleua, will be joined by players from the freshman and sophomore squads that combined for a 19-1 record this fall.
For now, the team’s future prospects provides little consolation for Campiotti, who has played with the current senior class since he was brought up to the sophomore team as a freshman.
“We have a good squad coming back, this is heartbreaking though,” he said. “This has been my group of guys since (starting high school). It’s just sad know that I won’t get to play with those guys again.”