Tyler Paul Wentworth had been hurried, held, and even driven into the turf at David Patton Field, but with the Valley Oak League title hanging in the balance, the Central Catholic star pushed back.
One season after deciding this annual grudge match with Manteca High with his arm, Wentworth clinched at least a share of the program’s sixth consecutive VOL title with his pads.
Wentworth’s tackle of KP MacDannald at the 5-yard line as time expired sealed a come-from-behind 39-35 win, triggering a wild on-field celebration fueled by a decade of dominance.
Wentworth, bound for Clemson baseball this summer, accounted for three touchdowns, including two through the air, and Carter Meeks’ second rushing score midway through the fourth quarter proved to be the game-winner.
The Raiders (7-2, 4-0) have now won nine consecutive games against the Buffaloes since joining the Valley Oak League in 2014, but like so many of their battles in the last decade, this one was in doubt late. Five of their nine meetings have been decided by seven points or less.
Wentworth finished 12 of 16 for 225 yards and Joey Alcutt had 104 yards on 15 carries, as the Raiders' attacked with balance.
Still, for the second straight week, Central Catholic found itself in a dogfight at the halftime break.
Wentworth accounted for two first-half touchdowns, including an elite 55-yard scoring strike to Trace Hernandez, to give the Raiders a 24-22 advantage.
Manteca (6-3, 3-1) punched back with 13 unanswered points in the third quarter, putting Central Catholic on upset alert.
Promising freshman running back Nikko Juarez raced around the right edge for a 57-yard touchdown, skipping out of an ankle tackle and picking up a key block from sophomore Jhadis Luckey.
Track star JuJu Moncada (three catches, 134 yards) reeled in his second touchdown pass, a 26-yard reception to make it 35-24 with 45.9 seconds led in the quarter.
Wentworth wasted little time igniting the Raiders’ comeback, taking advantage of a blown coverage in the secondary with a 50-yard touchdown pass to Cal-commit Brooklyn Cheek (four catches, 102 yards) as the quarter expired.
In an instance, momentum flipped in the Raiders’ favor. Meeks pushed Central Catholic into the lead for good with a 4-yard run with 5:06 left, setting the stage for the Buffaloes’ final drive. Meeks carried just three times in the game, but maximized his opportunities, finishing two of those runs in the end zone.
Garrison Reis began the drive with a long completion to Ruben Moreno, and then Bryson Davis (25 carries, 198 yards, two touchdowns) carried the Buffaloes to the Central Catholic 10-yard line with runs of 12, 8, 10 and 4.
Sitting on one timeout and staring at a fourth-and-6, Manteca coach Mark Varnum elected to let the clock run down to 2.5 seconds. One play for 10 yards. One play for a monumental win, or an agonizing defeat.
The crowd shifted to the north end zone as anticipation spiked with back-to-back timeouts by Roger Canepa, each aimed to freeze Reis and the Buffalo offense.
Would Davis etch his name in the rivalry lore? Or would Moncada continue his big night against the Raiders’ college-bound cornerbacks?
Reis faked the hand off to Davis and rolled the pocket to the short side of the field, flipping a pass to fellow senior MacDannald, another speedy target, on the boundary. Before he could set his feet, MacDannald was met by Wentworth, who drove him – and the Buffaloes’ hopes of a win – out of bounds.