Turlock defensive end Devin Bradley celebrates a stop by the Bulldogs' defense during a season-opening win over Freedom of Oakley on Aug. 23, 2019. The Bulldogs return home to face another Bulldog this Thursday -- Tracy High, its annual Dogbone rival. (Samantha Schmidt)

Manteca blasts Placer for D-III championship

Independent Contributor
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With No. 4 Manteca having just retaken the lead early in the third quarter, the Buffaloes’ Angel Garay put a dagger through heart of top-seeded Placer of Auburn when he returned an interception 87 yards for a touchdown on the way to a convincing 33-14 win for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship at Sacramento City College’s Hughes Stadium.

Manteca now awaits word from the State CIF office on Sunday for seeding for the state playoffs.

“I was just doing my reads and reading the plays,” Garay said. “I have been practicing hard all week and I just saw that ball in the air and I had to go attack it.

“Once I got the ball I started running and followed behind my blockers and ran into the end zone.”

Trabron Russell (19 carries, 218 yards, four touchdowns) got each half off on the right foot for the Buffaloes (11-2). On Manteca’s second play of the first half, he galloped 59 yards for a touchdown. On the first play of the third quarter, he reeled off a 55-yard touchdown run. He also added a 1-yard scoring plunge and he capped the night’s scoring with a 45-yard touchdown run. His average scoring run was 40 yards, quite an accomplishment for a rainy night.  

“The offensive line started dominating in the beginning of the game,” Russell said. “They were opening holes and doing things at will. The manhandled Placer the whole game.

“It was amazing getting those wide-open runs in this big of a game.”

Defense had its big plays too for the Buffaloes. Twice Leonardo Bonilla made tackles for loss on fourth down, killing a pair of drives for Placer (10-3). Elias Malio, Evans Nicolas, Garren Genilla and Dominik Neuharth all took turns creating havoc in the Hillmen backfield.

“It was just off instinct,” Bonilla said of his two big drive-ending plays. “I just did what I had to do.

“I studied hours of film and I pretty much knew what was coming.”

Manteca coach Mark Varnum was ecstatic for the win, his first section championship at the helm for the Buffaloes.

“We will start with `wow’,” Varnum said. “We snatched momentum early and they got it back right before the half. We told the guys that they were 24 minutes away and momentum was fickle.

“Tra (Russell) scoring on that first play of the second half and you can’t say enough about Angel’s pick six – that was definitely the game. These conditions were tough, but we found a way to win and our defense had another huge, huge performance.”

Manteca called timeout twice near the end of the first quarter, forcing Placer to punt into a strong headwind. The strategy worked, resulting in a negative-20 yard punt for the Hillmen, giving the Buffaloes first down at the Placer 26-yard line.

Five plays later Russell powered in a score from the 1-yard line for a 13-0 lead.

“(Defensive coordinator) Rick (James) and I talked about taking those timeouts,” Varnum said. “That paid huge dividends.

“We knew it would be a field-position game.”