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Buffs eyeing shot at state title
Manteca secures first ever regional bowl birth
Manteca High celebrates Friday after defeating Sacramento High for the section title. - photo by HIME ROM ERO/The Bulletin

Are you ready for some more football?

Manteca High’s season was extended by the California Interscholastic Federation on Sunday when it selected the Buffaloes (13-1) to meet Enterprise (12-0) of Redding in the Northern California Regional Division II Championship Bowl Game.

The game will take place Saturday, Dec. 14, at Lincoln High’s Spanos Stadium in Stockton, where Manteca routed Sacramento 49-6 for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III title this past Friday. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

“We’re doing something that no Manteca High team has ever done, so it’s pretty special,” said 12th-year head coach Eric Reis, who has led the Buffs to three of their four section championships. “It’s an honor, for sure. We’re glad that the CIF thought enough of our season to give us this opportunity.”

Only section champions are eligible for the CIF Bowl Games. Winners of the NorCal and SoCal regionals (Open Division, Divisions I-IV) will converge in Carson on Dec. 20-21 with state titles on the line at the StubHub Center. The Manteca-Enterprise winner takes on a SoCal juggernaut, be it Chaminade (12-2) of West Hills or Hart (12-2) of Newhall.

The CIF coordinated the first State Championship Bowl Games in 2006, and regional contests were introduced last year.

Mark Tennis, editor of Cal-Hi Sports, reported on Sunday that the Division II North matchup was the toughest for the section commissioners to decide.

“That was a very in-depth discussion by the committee,” said CIF football chairperson Mike Garrison, as quoted in the Cal-Hi Sports report. “They just felt that the top two teams (Enterprise and Manteca) were the two best based on the criteria that was in front of them.”

Manteca and Enterprises’ chances of getting NorCal bids improved Saturday night thanks to two upsets in the Bay Area. Previously-undefeated Casa Grande (Petaluma) would have been a shoo-in had it won the North Coast Section Division II crown, and private-school power St. Francis (Mountain View) would have earned heavy consideration had it done the same in the Central Coast Section.

Miramonte ended up stunning Casa Grande, 41-28, while St. Francis was upended by Los Gatos, 31-14.

“That’s kind of how this year has gone for us, like it was meant to be,” Reis said. “It’s been one of those years when everything seemed to fall into place. I should go up to Tahoe or something.”

Deserving teams were going to be snubbed no matter what.

Miramonte (12-2) had a strong case with back-to-back postseason wins over Clayton Valley and Casa Grande — two teams that held the No. 1 spot in the Cal-Hi Sports Division II North rankings. The Matadors’ two losses were to NCS small-school heavyweight Marin Catholic (D-III finalist) and Campolindo (semifinalist), and neither game was competitive.

Los Gatos (10-3) capped its season with a notable victory over St. Francis and avenged one of its three losses with a convincing 35-6 victory over Menlo-Atherton in the CCS semifinals.

The big strike against the Wildcats is their 42-7 lopsided defeat to Wilcox, a common opponent the Wildcats have with Manteca. The Buffaloes dropped a 28-27 overtime heartbreaker to Wilcox, and it came down to a botched two-point conversion try.

Enterprise’s perfect record was challenged by some who believed the Hornets benefitted from what is perceived to be a softer schedule compared to the ones other Bowl contenders played. To their credit, they decisively took care of other top teams out of the Northern Section such as West Valley, Central Valley, Paradise (twice) and Sutter.

They also traveled about 230 miles south to take on out-of-section opponent Oakdale, which lost that game 23-22 after a failed two-point conversion. Manteca beat Valley Oak League rival Oakdale more convincingly, 35-20, giving its coaches and backers reason to believe their team deserves a bid instead of Enterprise.

None of that matters now, as they get to settle it on the field. Enterprise will again have to prove itself far from home; its drive to Lincoln High covers 201 miles versus just 23.4 for Manteca, according to Google Maps.

“Enterprise is a highly-ranked team and we’re playing our best ball right now when it counts,” Reis said. “All we could control was getting that (section championship) ring. We’re playing with house money this week. This is unchartered for us, something we’re really excited about.”