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Buffs bring Bacon out of backfield
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For two years, Steven Martinez has lined up on the offensive or defensive line for the Manteca varsity football team.

On Friday, facing Trevon McCray and the Valley Oak League’s stingiest defense, the Buffalo coaching staff re-positioned one of their strongest and hardest-hitting players.

They put “Bacon” in the backfield.

Manteca unveiled its “Thunder” formation on several key drives, paving the way for running back Hector Soto’s career night and a 34-20 victory. 

Splashing about the muddy field, Soto racked up 197 yards on 31 carries. He scored two touchdowns — an opening 4-yard burst and later a 42-yard sprint in the third quarter. 

During each series, he followed the lead block of lineman-turned-fullback Martinez, a 5-foot-9, 290-pound senior.

“No. 50 was supposedly their hardest hitter,” Martinez said of McCray, a returning all-VOL middle linebacker. “Coach came up to me and said, ‘You’re one of our heaviest lifters, one of our strongest hitters. We want Hector Soto to score. We want our hardest hitter on their hardest hitter.’ ” 

Though he hasn’t lined up in the backfield since his eighth-grade season with the Jr. Buffaloes, Martinez jumped at the chance to play lead blocker. 

Elijah Root-Sanchez took his place on the offensive line.

“Coach,” Martinez recalls saying, “thanks very much.”

“It was a lot of fun, especially at the end of the game when we got the victory,” he later added. “It was fun, but it was tiring. Coach saw my huffing and puffing a few times, but I told him ‘Coach, don’t take me out of that position.’” 

The Buffaloes rushed for 292 yards and reached the Sierra 30-yard line on six of their nine possessions, routinely gashing a fast and physical defensive front.

While Martinez doesn’t know if “Thunder” will become a regular look in the postseason, he does know this: 

“It worked out,” he said, “a lot.”

• • •


Rarely has Manteca kicker Marcus Montano had to get this dirty.

The soccer star saved two touchdowns with desperate tackles on kickoff returns in the first and fourth quarters, and then covered his own misfire on a punt late.

He also kicked a 35-yard extra point, capping one of the strangest night’s of his two-year career.

Montano’s punt midway through fourth quarter traveled backwards, netting minus-6 yards. Montano fell on top of the loose ball at the 50, giving the Timberwolves a short field for their final drive.

However, Sierra would have its own issues with the wet conditions. Twice receivers dropped catchable passes, and a high snap on third-and-15 sailed over quarterback Devin Nunez’s head. 

Dangerous return man Nick Lucchetti very nearly turned the game in Sierra’s favor twice with long returns, but couldn’t side-step Montano, the Buffaloes’ last defender. 

• • •


Weston Ranch’s Marque Watson has emerged as one of the area’s top wide receivers, and he proved it again on Friday.

Watson had five catches for 122 yards, including a 72-yard touchdown in the final minute of the first quarter as the Cougars outlasted East Union 14-8.

With the win, Weston Ranch improves to 2-4 and 3-6 overall going into its season finale against Sierra on Friday. 

While Watson was a force on the offensive side of the ball, his biggest impact may have come on defense where the 6-foot-1 defensive back was charged with covering 6-foot-4 Austin Miller.

Miller was targeted six times by quarterback Jack Weaver, who was 1 of 14. His only completion was to Miller on the final drive of the game.

Watson deflected two passes.

“I had a feeling it was going to come to me all night,” Watson said. “Honestly, I was just trying to execute what our coaches have been teaching us. I had to stay back and not get beat deep.”

Now comes another 6-foot-4 challenge: Sierra’s Hunter Johnson, who had six catches for 104 yards and a touchdown in a loss to Manteca.

• • •


Quarterback Muhammad Khan came to Weston Ranch coach Seth Davis has raw as raw could be. The senior had never played a high school sport, but won the starting job over the summer.

The learning curve has been steep, but Khan has been up to the task. He completed just 7 of 18 passes, but five of those completions went for 10 or more yards and he totaled 164 in last week’s victory over East Union.

“He is just super poised,” Davis said. “For not ever having played a high school sport and to come out here and be able to perform is a testament to him.

“I also have to give it up to the offensive line for protecting their quarterback. East Union is big up front and they were able to give (Khan) protection.”