It’s the longest second of Gino Campiotti’s career so far at Manteca High.
Visiting powerhouse Valley Christian of San Jose called a timeout before lining up for the game-deciding 37-yard field goal on the final play of Friday’s season opener at Guss Schmiedt Field. The Buffaloes further delayed it by calling a timeout of their own.
Campiotti walked toward the dirt track and kneeled.
“Probably 2 ½ minutes of straight prayer,” he said. “I asked God to watch that field goal with me.”
Kyle Kroening, who earlier cleared a 35-yard point-after kick with ease, shanked the attempt, and the Buffaloes celebrated a hard-earned 22-20 win against the 27th-ranked team in the state. Cal-Hi Sports has Manteca at No. 34, but that is sure to change after this triumph.
“It’s what it had to be — two heavyweights and it came down to the last punch in the game and that’s pretty much what happened,” Manteca coach Eric Reis said. “We were starting to run out of gas in the second half and we held on for dear life. Fortunately, tonight we got it done.”
Barely, and not long after it had the makings of a blowout in the Buffaloes’ favor.
Manteca had its way with the Warriors in the opening half, outgaining them on yardage, 209-93. Most of Valley Christian’s offensive production came on Charlie Bostic’s 56-yard touchdown scamper, and the Buffaloes went into the break ahead, 22-7.
Campiotti completed 13 of 22 passes for 208 yards and three touchdowns overall, but most of it came in the first half (11 of 15, 142 yards). He was able to carve up Valley Christian’s vaunted pass defense led by highly-recruited defensive end R.J. Stone and defensive back D’Angelo McKenzie. Then the Buffaloes were shut out in the second half.
“We’ve been game planning for these guys since January,” Campiotti said, later giving kudos to first-year offensive coordinator Mark Varnum. “We just ran what we knew worked best and in the second half what was working best didn’t work so good … These guys are good, they stop everything. We ran a couple good plays at the right times.”
Campiotti hit tight end Kyle Rachels (four receptions, 60 yards) twice for touchdowns and Carter Williams from 30 yards out for the other in the opening half.
Williams had the highlight play that didn’t end up counting. On Manteca’s second series of the game, Campiotti escaped pressure and zeroed in on Williams on a crossing route. Williams leapt over Valley Christian defensive back D’Von Lang in front of the Buffaloes’ sideline before scooting upfield for what would have been a 51-yard touchdown. It was He was instead flagged with a personal foul for hurdling.
“I was pretty upset they called that back,” Williams said. “It’s football, you should be able to hurdle. If I see someone go low I’m just going to go leap.”
Manteca scored anyway, as Campiotti connected with Rachels for a 26-yard toss up the middle. Michael Frisby ran in the conversion for the 8-0 Buffaloes lead.
Valley Christian, however, changed the game in the second half, starting with an 11-play possession punctuated by Bostic’s 3-yard touchdown.
McKenzie, who didn’t have a carry in the first half, rushed for 41 yards on seven carries over the final two periods. His 3-yard touchdown run was set up Campiotti’s lost fumble inside Manteca’s own 5, and Valley Christian pulled in 22-20 with 11:09 remaining.
The Buffaloes had an opportunity to put it away on the ensuing drive after Pressley Keltner (two catches, 97 yards) turned an intermediate pass into a 60-yard play. Manteca lost 15 yards on the play because of it was penalized for sideline interference for the second time. The drive stalled on the 27.
“That was humongous,” Reis said. “We shot ourselves on the foot on that one. It’s early-season football. Until that first game you don’t’ know what to work on, and now we know what to work on. When you’re playing someone that good it changes everything. You have to be spot-on on everything.”
Valley Christian relented until the final buzzer. On the final series, Manteca cornerback Ben Rea dropped McKenzie for a 5-yard loss as the Warriors closed in on the red zone. That coupled with a block-in-the-back penalty further set them back, and McKenzie set up the field goal try with an 18-yard catch-and-run.
Valley Christian coach Mike Machado was elated with his team’s never-say-die effort. His team lost all of its top offensive players to graduation from last year’s CIF State Division II-AA Bowl Game qualifier. He was also missing his best offensive lineman with an injury.
“Let me say this first and foremost, that’s a good football team,” Machado said. “That quarterback is a heck of a player, he makes plays. They’re always going to be in a game as long as he’s back there. Their guys did a good job up front, but our kids, for the shape they’re in right now, weathered the storm pretty well against their size.”