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Buffs defense feasting on opposing offenses
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Manteca assistant coach Dan Eavenson pours some chili on Devyn Gonzales plate Tuesday. The Buffaloes had hot dogs and nachos after practice as a reward for their third consecutive shutout of the season. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin

A longtime tradition has turned into a weekly feast for Manteca.
Defensive coordinator Rick James rewards the team with meals after shutouts, and after practice Tuesday the Buffaloes (2-0 Valley Oak League, 5-0 overall) were treated to hot dogs, nachos and chili for their 49-0 thumping of Weston Ranch last Friday. In previous weeks it was Chinese food and pizza, their bounty for locking down Enochs and Kimball in back-to-back blowouts.
“Getting a shutout is not an easy thing to do at any level,” James said.
The ravenous Buffaloes have made it look easy of late.
It’s the first time Manteca has shut out three straight opponents under Eric Reis, the head coach since 2002. The 2013 Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship team didn’t post any shutouts, and the undefeated 2006 Buffaloes had four total but not three in a row. They came close last year, blanking three in four weeks.
Manteca hasn’t been scored on in a month. On Sept. 3, the defense handcuffed quarterback Tyler Vander Waal, committed to Ball State, in a 39-6 win over Christian Brothers. The Falcons did not put points on the board until the game was well out of reach in the fourth quarter.
Three of Manteca’s opponents so far were held to less than 150 yards of offense. Last week, Weston Ranch had 23 yards by halftime — 13 coming on quarterback Terry Snipes’ scramble in the final seconds. That led to the first of just three first downs for the Cougars, and Manteca’s hungry defense kept them out of its own red zone all night.
The Buffaloes were already minus starting inside linebacker James Thomas (concussion) and Michael Sarmento (ankle), and the reserves were able to preserve another shutout.
“This is a team, and one of the things we tell our guys is be like a shark tooth — next guy in and keep up the standard, and that’s what we did,” Reis said Friday.
It all starts with Manteca’s imposing 3-4 front anchored by second-year defensive ends Justin Kakala (6-4, 270) and Kyle Reis (6-2, 260) with hulking sophomore Noe Saldivar (6-0, 285) in the middle.
“They get a lot of penetration, which commands double teams,” inside linebacker Ferrin Manuleleua said. “That gets me free and I’m able to fire on them and make plays. They’re the ones doing the work; all I have to do is make the play.”
Manuleleua has made many. The junior is on pace to lead the team in tackles for a second straight season and currently has 39, including eight for losses.
One pleasant surprise has been hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker Rayshon Dozier, who at 5-foot-11, 170 pounds ties Kakala for the team lead with 4 ½ sacks.
“Dozier will probably be more of an outside linebacker next year, but he can play with his hand in the dirt,” James said. “He’s definitely a presence on the outside edge and getting after the quarterback. He uses some of that tenacity and that speed to wreak havoc.
James also likes what he sees from the secondary, the most inexperienced group on the defense coming into the season. Quarterback Gino Campiotti was a sophomore starter at free safety last year but is now focusing his efforts on offense. And with Sarmento missing the last two games, juniors Vincent Ferro and Kyle Rachels have filled in admirably.
Ferro set the tone for the defense in the Weston Ranch game, picking off a third-down pass on the opening drive.
“We knew we were pretty stout up front,” James said. “The growing pains were going to be on the back end and fortunately we’ve had some young guys step up and play well.”
It’ll take another complete effort to keep their next adversary off the scoreboard. Intra-city rival Sierra (2-0, 4-1) visits Guss Schmiedt Field after its thrilling 37-36 overtime win over East Union. No one has been able to limit the Timberwolves’ spread attack led by quarterback Mark Vicente, who is much improved from last year’s SJS and state title run.
“Vicente been very good for them,” James said. “He got the benefit of playing extra games last year, so he’s kind of like a two-year starter going into the season in my mind.”
“They also do a good job of running screens and they block for each other really well. We have the ability to be aggressive and extra physical but you have to be cautious with that against them. It’s a different type of offense to try and stop.”
A fourth consecutive shutout may be tough to pull off even for these Buffaloes, but they won’t be kind hosts this Friday.
“The guys play with a little bit of a mean streak,” James said.
And an appetite to boot.