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Campiotti, Buffs raise expectations after winning section title
FB--All-Area MVP-Campiotti pic
Manteca quarterback Gino Campiotti enjoyed a record-breaking junior campaign that included Valley Oak League and Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championships. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

For all that Gino Campiotti and the Manteca football team accomplished this past fall, it’s the failures that drive the Buffaloes’ talented junior quarterback.

The Manteca Bulletin All-Area MVP led them to a share of the Valley Oak League championship and the program’s fifth Sac-Joaquin Section title. Many strive for such achievements, and while proud to do so Campiotti yearned for much more.

The season ended a week earlier than the Buffaloes (12-2) had hoped. They were simply outmatched against standout running back Jordan Mims (312 yards, four TDs) and Menlo-Atherton in the CIF State Division III-AA Northern California Bowl Game, 49-21.

Their other loss — 32-14 to four-time state champion Central Catholic — is one Campiotti puts on his shoulders. It was his worst effort of the season, as he threw three interceptions including a back-breaking coast-to-coast return by Central Catholic cornerback DaRon Bland at the end of the first half. Bland was named the VOL’s Defensive Player of the Year, while Campiotti was voted its top offensive player.

“We’ve never beaten Central Catholic at the varsity level — they’re like kryptonite to us,” Campiotti said. “There were things I could have done differently in that game that would have given us a better chance to win. 

“But against Menlo-Atherton we did everything we could, we couldn’t match up with them. They were so good. We can’t say we beat ourselves, that’s a team that just beat us. Next year, we want to be that team.”

Menlo-Atherton coach Adhir Ravipati is a believer. He came away impressed by the junior-laden Buffaloes, especially Campiotti.

Campiotti broke single-season program records in completions (139), pass attempts (231) and passing yards (2,101). His 24 touchdown passes is second only to Joe Menzel’s 26. Menzel was part of Manteca’s 2010 SJS Division III championship team.

For much of the season, it was the dominant defense and running attack that anchored the Buffaloes, but Campiotti took his turn in the limelight in some of their biggest games. Although the stats (9 of 11, 149 yards, touchdown) were meager compared to his other shining moments, Campiotti was efficient and completed clutch throws when needed in a 30-22 victory over Oakdale.

Oakdale’s Trent Merzon is another head coach who gave a nod to Campiotti. His Mustangs went to beat Central Catholic in Week 10 to force a three-way championship in the VOL and claim the SJS Division III and CIF State Division III-A titles.

“Tip your hat to Manteca, man — especially No. 3,” Merzon said. “Gino made plays tonight. He threw some dimes and did some great things.”

To Campiotti, the Oakdale win was the highlight of the season. Ever since his days with the Jr. Buffaloes youth football program, he had never previously triumphed against Oakdale on the grid iron.

“It felt great to finally be able to do that,” he said.

The higher the stakes, the more Campiotti was needed to come through.

Dixon proved to be no slouch in the first round of the SJS Division IV playoffs. Manteca prevailed 42-13 on the strength of Campiotti’s arms and legs. He rushed for a season-high 96 yards and a touchdown while completing 11 of 14 passes for 198 yards and four more scores.

But it was on the biggest stage of the section playoffs that Campiotti truly shined.

Second-seeded Placer stunned the heavy-favored Buffaloes when it staked a 14-0 lead in the opening quarter. Manteca couldn’t jump start the offense, especially with the run game.

That was Campiotti’s cue to take over. Manteca rallied to win 50-28, and Campiotti set a new single-game record for the program with 318 yards to go with five touchdowns (one rushing). 

“We went down quick, but none of our guys gave up and that’s what I love about this team,” Campiotti said. “It felt good to be part of that. It too great line play, big plays from the receivers — so many pieces came together to make that happen.”

Against overpowering Menlo-Atherton, Manteca relied once again on Campiotti to move the offense. Down 35-7 in the second half, he gave Manteca a glimmer of hope by connecting with Presley Keltner for touchdown passes. He wound up with 22 completions on 42 attempts — two more program records — for 312 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Campiotti’s five interceptions in the losses to Central Catholic and M-A were his only giveaways all season.

One of his personal goals for 2017 is to shatter all of Manteca’s passing records, but none if it matters to him if the team fails to make its first-ever state championship game.

“Everything that happened to us is motivation,” Campiotti said. “Winning a section title was a goal of ours the whole year, I just wish it could have lasted a weak longer. We tasted what it was like to be in the NorCal game, but next year we want the big prize.”