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Buffs succumb to scrappy Foothill in NorCal opener
Mantecas Matthew Ender, from left, Jorge Cedano, Tydus Verhoeven and Dwight Young make their way off the court as Foothill celebrates its 73-68 upset of the defending CIF State Division III champion. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

Tydus Verhoeven secured a defensive rebound and quickly flung an outlet pass for Jorge Cedano, who then lofted it up to the 6-foot-7 standout for an alley-oop dunk that energized Manteca’s home crowd at Winter Gymnasium.

Mere seconds later, Foothill’s Thurman Knowles rushed up the court and found Danny Jensen open in the right wing for a 3-pointer.

The back-and-forth sequence late in the third quarter was telling.

Foothill, travelling all the way from Palo Cedro on Wednesday, showed that hard-nosed effort and discipline can bring down taller, more talented teams — even a defending state champion. 

The 11th-seeded Cougars pulled off a major upset in the opening round of the CIF State Division III Northern California Regional Championships, holding off a fourth-quarter charge from Dwight Young and No. 5 Manteca to prevail, 73-68.

The Buffaloes (24-7) were done in by their 26 turnovers as well as Foothill’s feistiness on the offensive boards in the second half, nine made 3s and efficiency from the free-throw line (16 for 17).

“Of course it hurts, especially with the runs we’ve had in the previous years,” Verhoven said. The Valley Oak League’s Most Valuable Player ended his decorated four-year varsity career with Manteca on Wednesday, finishing with 15 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and five blocks.

“They came out and they played their game. They were on fire shooting the ball, they ran their system and we made too many mistakes tonight.

“They came in here with the underdog mentality and got the job done,” he added.

Young, one of Manteca’s four seniors, scored 15 of his team-high 20 points in the fourth quarter after the Buffs twice trailed by as much as 11 in the third. He drained two 3s and five straight free throws down the stretch, and his layup with 16.6 seconds whittled the deficit down to two, 70-68, with 16.6 seconds to go. 

Knowles (seven points, 11 rebounds, five assists, three steals) closed it out for Foothill (21-9) by hitting 3 of 4 free throws.

Upset wins aren’t new for these Cougars. Last Friday, they stunned top-seeded and Eastern Athletic-Sacramento River League rival Pleasant Valley in overtime 62-58 to capture the Northern Section’s Division III title. They’ll head to San Francisco on Saturday to face No. 4 Mission (31-1) in the NorCal quarterfinals.

“It was a huge win for our program and our school,” Foothill coach Bill Elliott said of his team’s latest shocker. “We’re from the Northern Section so we don’t get a lot of respect. We try to get out and play some teams in the preseason. We play Manteca and probably beat them one out of 10 times, and tonight was the night for us.”

Foothill had a lackluster start and buckled late under Manteca’s full-court pressure, but the Cougars were, for the most part, the better team in the stretches in between.

Elliott called a timeout just 31 seconds into the game after Manteca converted its first two shots for a 4-0 lead.

“We just had to believe,” Foothill’s coach said. “I think we came out a little wide-eyed.

While Carter Smith (15 points) struggled from the field in the first half, 6-2 wing Brandon Gentles and others picked up the slack. Gentles burned Manteca for 19 points, and Jensen finished with 11 — including three 3s — off the bench. 

Manteca led 19-14 after the first quarter but turnovers, many of them unforced, continued to mount. The Buffaloes’ 18 giveaways in the first half negated their 18-6 advantage on the boards, and Foothill rolled into halftime with a 9-0 run for a 39-29 lead.

Matt Ender’s short-range jumper with 3:31 left put Manteca up 29-25, but it was the Buffaloes’ last field goal of the second quarter. It was also their last lead of the game.

“Foothill battled,” Manteca coach Brett Lewis said. “They came in here, drove four and a half hours and thought they could beat us. We played right into their hands early on and dug ourselves a hole.”

Foothill then gave Manteca fits on the boards in the second half, grabbing 13 off the offensive glass to score second-chance points.

The Cougars rallied for eight unanswered points early in the third to lead 42-31, with Gentles capping the run with a floater of Verhoeven.

Elliott said Gentles is the “one kid” on his team who has the athletic ability to compete “at a different level.” The rest of the squad is made up of “a bunch of 6-foot guys.”

“We can only coach what we have,” he said. “Our kids play with a lot of heart and sometimes it’s not enough, but tonight I think it was. I’m really proud with how hard we fought, win or lose.”

Gino Campiotti contributed 12 points for Manteca, and Ender had 10 to go with six rebounds, five assists, five steals and two blocks. The two juniors along with Cedano (seven points), a sophomore, will give Manteca experienced starters next season.

“It’s hard to see those guys go, they made us coaches look smart,” Lewis said of his seniors, namely Verhoeven and Young. “They took us to the promised land. We have to be thankful what they did for the program and for the team. We return a lot so that’s a good thing. We have to look forward to what’s next.”