I slept like a baby Saturday night.
I had a long day on Saturday – started about 10 a.m. and ended around 11 p.m. But as I write this on Sunday morning watching the 49ers play, I have to wonder how many members of the Manteca High football program have not slept a wink.
The pain they are going through must be unbearable. To have come so far and been so close to competing for a state title and to have it snatched away is something they will never forget.
The sad thing is, they have to mumbling “coulda, shoulda, woulda” to themselves. Their 27-21 loss to Enterprise of Redding – my bitter high-school rival – was in no way indicative of this Buffaloes football team.
All year long, it was Manteca that was the hammer and not the nail. All year long it was Manteca that forced the other team to fumble. All year long it was Manteca that forced the other team into costly mistakes. But not on Saturday night.
Truth be told, neither team was the nail on Saturday. Both teams were as physical as any two high-school teams I have seen in a long time. And while both teams fumbled, the Hornets fumbles bounced out of harm’s way while the Buffaloes fumbles were daggers right through their hearts.
But that is one of the wonders of the game. You never know which way that ball is going to bounce, and sometimes things are just out of your control.
One of the things you have no control over is officiating. There were two questionable calls that went against Manteca. One was a pass interference call that the two officials with the best view did not call but a third – the one right in front of the Enterprise bench whose view of the defender was obstructed – elected to call. I have to think that he was lobbied on that call.
The other was the fumble on the way into the end zone. When I saw video of the play, I thought it was a score. When I saw a picture of it, I thought not. The bottom line is when you allow yourself to be put in a position when one or two calls can change the outcome, bad things can happen – and in this case they did and that is sad.
But in life, not everyone wins. Not everybody gets a trophy. And while it is cliché, sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. And while it pains me that I cannot say that Enterprise was not good, it sure helped them when they got lucky
While none of us know what the future holds, I have to think this was a once-in-a-lifetime shot for the Buffaloes. To have assembled the beef that they did along with the skilled positions to boot is something I have never seen in this town, and I have to wonder if it can ever be duplicated.
It will take the players a long time to recover. Some of them have played their last football game and to go out with a loss like this will forever haunt them. And that is sad, because they accomplished so much. They shredded the Valley Oak League and embarrassed the best the Sac-Joaquin Section had to offer.
While I spoke from experience on what it was like to play Enterprise, I will now speak from experience on how it feels to make a fatal mistake. Way back in the day when my team was driving for a winning score we were stopped three times inside the 5-yard line. There was no way that should have happened. And it would not have, if I would have made my block.
It was not until we saw the game film that we knew what happened. Three plays in a row I ran right past the defensive end and three plays in a row he stuffed the play. I made him an All Star and cost us the game. Granted, it was just a regular game, but I still see those plays to this day.
Some players may walk away from Saturday’s game with that feeling, and eventually it will diminish. It will never go away. But, how fortunate they are to have had the opportunity to reach for that brass ring that so many – including myself – can only dream of.
While those on the field have nothing to hang their heads about, some of those in the Manteca stands should be absolutely ashamed of themselves. To boo the presentation of the championship plaque to Enterprise was as classless and immature as it gets.
It is that attitude that begins and is fostered in youth football. The conduct I witnessed this year in the stands at youth football games was at times repugnant. Who hurls repeated F-bombs during games? Local fans at youth sports games, that’s who. And left unchecked, we saw the end result of that Saturday night.
It is sad that things ended as they did – both on and off the field. But Manteca is still the only team from this town to win a SJS football title and the only one to compete in a state bowl game. And that is going to be one tough act to follow.
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