SANTA CLARA — Neil MacDannald traced his way through the belly of Levi’s Stadium, distancing himself from a 42-21 loss to a bitter rival.
The sting was eased by his son Kaden’s embrace ... and a walk they won’t soon forget.
Father and son were headed toward the tunnel, hand in hand, the same tunnel that has piped NFL stars Colin Kaepernick, Patrick Willis and Frank Gore onto the NFL stage.
MacDannald’s football acumen has carried him across the country, from Turlock to North Dakota and now to Manteca, where he’s served as the offensive coordinator for three of the program’s four Sac-Joaquin Section championships.
But the former University of Mary wide receiver had never played in a stadium so grandiose and cutting edge as this. Truth be told, not many have, which made Saturday’s invitation all the more special; which made Saturday’s sour outcome a little easier to stomach.
After months of anticipation and careful planning, the oldest remaining rivalry in the Valley Oak League finally arrived at Levi’s Stadium, the site of this weekend’s Friday Night Lights high school football showcase.
The 49ers’ lavish new home butts up to the Cisco campus and is sandwiched by a country club and bustling youth soccer complex.
On Saturday, though, Manteca and Oakdale turned back the hands of time on this ever-evolving Bay Area community, transforming the stage into a Central Valley field with its small-town throwdown.
The Mustangs’ packed the heaviest punch, unleashing the boy beast Frankie Trent on the Buffaloes.
“They do a lot of the other fancy boy stuff against everyone else, but against us it gets down to bread and potatoes,” Manteca coach Eric Reis said. “We knew that was going to happen.”
Here’s a fun fact: For the time being, Trent — not the 49ers’ Frank Gore — holds the single-game rushing record at Levi’s Stadium.
The hulking fullback finished with 33 carries for 223 yards and enough touchdowns to feed a herd of, well, buffalo. There were six, in all, each a little more impressive than the last.
As Manteca wilted in the sun, Trent, a converted offensive lineman, thundered through the line and into the second level, where he required an all-hands takedown.
There was nothing sexy about the Oakdale’s Wing-T on Saturday. Head coach Trent Merzon challenged Manteca’s defensive front to chop down Trent, a 5-foot-9, 190-pound senior seemingly sculpted from rock.
“The guy’s a load,” Reis said.
Somewhere in that sea of 6,000, Central Catholic coach Roger Canepa had to be smiling. His staff exposed the flaw in Manteca’s defense during their thrilling league win late last month.
That night, Canepa converted wide receiver Justin Rice into a tailback, and the 6-foot-2 junior scored all four of the Raiders’ touchdowns and the game-winning two-point conversion.
On that final play, Rice stepped out of a tackle at the goal line.
On Saturday, the Mustangs put their twist on that blueprint, exploiting the Buffaloes’ inability to tackle a big running back. Oakdale rushed for 334 yards and 20 first downs, winning the time-of-possession battle in each half.
“When the Wing-T gets going, man, they start ripping plays off,” Manteca defensive coordinator Rick James said. “It’s a struggle. We tried to throw some different things at them, but in the end they were better up front.
“... Up front, we got handled. That was one of our strong points last year. We were able to push guys around, and today we got pushed.
“They ran trap, they ran power. (Quarterback) Adam Olsen did a great job avoiding pressure and delivering the ball down field. In the end, if you don’t stop trap, you don’t beat the Wing-T.”
That challenge now becomes Sierra’s as the VOL’s only unbeaten teams prepare to clash at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium on Friday. The winner of that game will have the inside track to the VOL championship.
For now, it appears the reigning champion has dropped out of the race. At 1-2 in league play and searching for its early form, Manteca’s primary focus is on punching a ticket to the postseason.
From there, the Buffaloes, who travel to Kimball on Friday, understand anything is possible.
“This probably takes us out of the VOL,” James said, “but you just have to get into the playoffs and get hot at the right time.
“Hopefully, that’s what we’ll do.”
If you’re searching for context, perhaps it’s this: The Buffaloes’ VOL title hopes may have been dashed on Saturday, but their end-game remains unfazed. There are bigger games yet to be played and bigger trophies to hunt.
So instead of stewing on Saturday’s letdown, Manteca showered and changed quickly and then headed out to explore Levi’s Stadium.
Some walked slower than others, clutching the hand of a little loved one, focused not on the loss but the all-access NFL experience.