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In-town rivalry reaching new heights
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Robbie Wise looked helpless as he leaned against the chain-linked fence separating the end zone of Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium from the snack bar on the northern end of the facility.

It was just a year ago that Wise was donning the familiar green and white uniform that had become his passion.

But with the battle brewing at the home of the Sierra Timberwolves, who knocked Wise’s Manteca Buffaloes out of the playoffs last year, he couldn’t help but feel that burn to once again put on that uniform and hit the field.

“This is one of those games that will make or break a team when it comes to the playoffs, and Sierra really has become a force in the (Valley Oak League),” Wise said while watching the action from a considerable distance. “We haven’t had that in a while, and it’s good to have a team that you can focus on like that.”

And while things have come a long ways since I suited up for the Sierra almost a decade ago, the intra-city rivalry aspect of the game has always been a part of the week-long build-up, evident by the group of Sierra students that snuck onto the Manteca campus and painted its beloved Buffalo in the quad silver and blue during the week we were supposed to square off.

While we won the game, it was a prank that went a little bit too far and was something that Manteca principal Steve Winter – who has deep roots in the Manteca green – was hoping to ensure didn’t happen again with the birth of another rivalry he hopes remains civil on and off the field.

“When you get a game like this there’s a lot more awareness among the student body, and when the big day approaches you really start to see the elaborate costumes and the face painting and the like,” he said. “That’s what high school football is all about, and as long as the game is played on the field and everything is kept within reason, all of those other things only help intensify the experience for all.”

After Sierra beat Manteca, 7-6, last season and cost the Buffaloes a playoff spot, Friday’s loss doesn’t mean that they will be out of the running again thanks to the Sac-Joaquin Section’s revamped postseason format.

But the game meant more to the old guard that turned out to watch two of the better teams that Manteca has seen in years than the playoff implications. Sierra’s former athletic director and East Union head football coach Vern Gebhardt enjoyed the view from just outside the press box with his group of friends.

“When I walked into this stadium today it reminded me of the old days – the packed stands and the people who really cared about their football,” Gebhardt said. “Here, we have two programs that have had a lot of success lately, and that’s a good thing not only for the (school) district but for the town as well, because it helps instill a sense of pride in our football programs and the kids that make them what they area.”

Just under 4,000 people turned out for Friday night’s game, and current Sierra athletic director Greg Leland said that’s a larger turnout that that of the program’s first-ever postseason contest played last year, noting that it’s the fullest he’s ever seen the stands for a football game.

“That says a lot about the quality of both of these teams,” Leland said. “They started filling the stands early and that’s always a good sign that there’s going to be a good football game.”