The two-time defending National Youth Football League varsity champion lost for the first time since 2009 Saturday at Chabot College in Hayward.
Now competing in the NorCal All-American Youth Football League, the Manteca Cowboys were on the losing end of a 38-37 thriller against the Fremont Jr. Huskies. With both defenses struggling, it was special teams that ultimately hurt the Cowboys, who failed to convert on four extra-point conversions while giving up two scores on punt returns.
To their credit, they valiantly battled back from a 38-25 deficit with 5 minutes remaining. They scored twice to close in but missed both conversion opportunities.
Big plays killed Manteca in the opening half. On the first play from scrimmage, the Cowboys had a 70-yard touchdown called back. Fremont would force them to punt and struck for six points on the return.
And it was off to the races.
On the ensuing drive, the Jr. Huskies doubled their lead with a pick-six, but Donicio Samoy quickly answered for Manteca with a 90-yard kickoff return.
After giving up yet another TD on a punt return, the Cowboys settled down and scored late in the second quarter with a 4-yard scamper from Parker Caston for the game’s first points tallied by an offensive unit.
Quarterback Seth Santos threw for 188 yards and touchdown strikes spanning 34 and 21 yards to Manuel Santos and John Robertson. Caston led the ground attack with 90 yards, and Justin Scoz rushed for 70 yards and two scores.
Scoz also recovered two fumbles on defense. Val Gomez, Seth Santos and Samoy each recovered one.
The Cowboys (1-1) will look to bounce back this Saturday against the San Lorenzo Jr. Rebels at Manteca High.
Cowboys 14, Jr. Huskies 0
The Cowboys (2-0) had to overcome their worst enemy to prevail: themselves.
Manteca had three touchdowns called back in the first quarter and was locked in a scoreless tie at halftime before the backfield tandem of Marcus Panelo and Seuseu Alofaituli finally broke the ice.
Panelo scored from 6 yards out in the third quarter and from 48 in the fourth to punch in the game’s lone touchdowns. Panelo finished with 198 yards on 14 rushes, while Alofaituli produced 138 on 15 to go with two extra-point rushes.
Alofaituli was also the team’s top producer defensively, recording 12 tackles and two sacks. Angel Sena contributed seven tackles and two sacks, and Devin Young led the defensive backfield with two pass deflections.
Jr. Huskies 28, Cowboys 0
Matthew Pilkay put forth a strong effort on both sides of scrimmage, but the Cowboys (1-1) struggled in the red zone to keep up. Pilkay had 10 carries go for 77 yards to account for most of Manteca’s offense and was one of three players (Julian Scoz, Seth Owings) to lead the team with seven tackles.
Anthony Martinez, Melvin MCoy and Andrew Sena chimed in with six tackles apiece.
Cowboys 34, Jr. Huskies 14
Kimoni Stanley torched the Jr. Huskies for 203 yards, four touchdowns and two extra-point runs as Manteca improved to 2-0. Joshua Grabowski rushed for 77 yards and also scored a touchdown.
Nicco Cedolini paced the defense with 12 tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery. Mark Sena recorded a sack, and Rafeal Espinosa caused two fumbles.