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Buffaloes grind out hard-earned victory on road
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SOQUEL — Competition is what the Manteca Buffaloes were hoping for when they scheduled the Soquel Knights of the Central Coast Section for their season opener.

And competition was exactly what they got Friday.
While Manteca was the first team to get on the board and seemed to be able to move the ball at will early on, Soquel’s trio of running backs were just getting warmed up — eventually throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the Buffaloes’ stingy defense.

But it wouldn’t be enough to take down Manteca, which snuck away from Dewey Tompkins Field with a 20-17 victory.

“They were a solid team tonight, and they weren’t going to give us anything out there — we were going to have to earn it,” Manteca head coach Eric Reis said. “We showed some flashes and did some good things, but it’s still early and we still have some stuff to work on.

“One of the big reasons we scheduled this game was to put our guys in a situation where they were going to have to face some adversity, and they really responded to that situation tonight.”

Manteca turned to the powerful legs of tailback Marquis Miller to establish an offensive rhythm.
It took Miller only five minutes to find the end zone for what ended up being the team’s only offensive touchdown of the night. He finished the game with 143 yards on 19 carries.

“You always have a little bit of jitters when you come out to play the first game, but after we got those worked out we just tried to do our best and make things happen,” Miller said. “I think that we can really build off of this win. It’s a chance for us to see what we need to do and another opportunity for us to get better.”

An early touchdown, however, wouldn’t stop the Knights from making their play at the lead and frustrating the Manteca defense with quarterback Jake Czuk and the three running backs behind him.

With Tyler Evey, Matt Malone, and Niko Alarcon taking the lion’s share of the touches for Soquel, each of the runners has the chance to build back up their stamina before pounding their way into Manteca’s hard-hitting front line, which didn’t always give the Knights the opportunities they were looking for.

When Manteca quarterback Matt Barber fumbled the ball deep in Soquel’s territory – giving the Knight’s the ball and a first-and-goal situation that looked like it might end up spelling disaster – the Manteca defense shut down the Knight’s rushing attack and eventually scored their own takeaway by forcing a fumble that Dewey Uecker recovered after the third attempt at the end zone.

Manteca added six points to their total through two Bradley Hatfield field goals – from 22 and 21 yards out – and cap off their scoring with Reggie Bell’s 90-yard punt return that put the game out of reach.

The score came after the Buffaloes defense stopped a Soquel drive that started after giving up a safety and free-kicking the ball with only a 13-9 lead with the clock inching towards the fourth quarter.