STOCKTON — Manteca High’s much-vaunted defense was tested early against Placer.
The Hillmen, in fact, had the Buffaloes reeling, scoring on their first play from scrimmage — Anthony Kerrigan hauled in the 71-yard bomb — with Morgan Rein-Robinson delivering on an 8-yard run in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship game Friday at Lincoln High.
Down 14-0, Manteca standout junior linebacker Ferrin Manuleleua noted that his team was suddenly in an unfamiliar position for the first time in the post season.
“It was a wake-up call for us,” he said. “A reality check.”
The sleeping giants woke up in a big way, dominating the second half en route to a 50-28 win. The Buffaloes have their secondary, once thought of as a question mark for an otherwise stout defense, to thank.
After quarterback Gino Campiotti cut the lead in half with a 16-yard scoring strike to Jose Garcia, the Buffaloes defense, led by the secondary, rose to the occasion.
“Our defensive backs stepped it up,” said Manteca coach Eric Reis.
Kyle Rachels, a 6-3 junior safety, said making the necessary adjustments was difference of overcoming the early deficit.
“We were able to make the right reads,” he added.
From that point on, the Buffaloes plucked five interceptions en route to claiming a fifth section crown for the program. It was a big effort from the defensive backfield that was young and unproven at the start of the year. Although Vincent Ferro did not have one of the picks Saturday, the emerging junior safety had his team-leading sixth in the Buffaloes’ 52-0 semifinal win over Los Banos.
“The turnovers were huge,” Reis said. “Our DBs have been maligned all year and tonight you saw some phenomenal plays. Gerson Gomez laid out on one and along with Matthew Ender and Kyle Rachels that group had to step out and they did.”
Rachels and Gerson Gomez had two picks each and Matthew Ender had the other interception.
“We trained hard this week,” said Gomez, who stretched out high in the air for his first-half theft.
His second interception came late in the fourth quarter to help end the game.
Rachels’ first interception led to Campiotti connecting with Kameron Beamon on a game-tying 74-yard touchdown.
His second theft snuffed out a Placer scoring theft late in a penalty-marred third quarter, with Rachels going from the end zone to his own 11 yard line.
Moments later, Beamon busted out another big play, darting 81 yards for the score.
Ender also had a third-quarter pick that helped set up a short touchdown run by Campiotti.
“Those extra film sessions paid off,” Ender said.
To contact reporter Vince Rembulat, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.