STOCKTON — For the fourth time in the past five seasons, the Manteca Buffaloes claimed a Sac-Joaquin Section championship on Friday over intraleague rival Oakdale with a stunning 59-yard touchdown pass with 22 seconds remaining in the game.
Hundreds of Manteca’s fans went into a frenzy after seeing quarterback Hudson Wyatt connect with wideout Zion Allen for the winning touchdown, and the 35-28 final score.
Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs: 2 San Joaquin County teams are playing in the championships
Over the final 22 seconds, top-seeded Oakdale reached midfield, but it’s hail-Mary pass fell harmlessly at the end zone and Manteca’s celebration was on.
The No. 4-seeded Buffaloes (10-3), Division III champions, will next await news on who its opponent will be in a NorCal Bowl game scheduled for either Friday or Saturday. Matchups will be announced Sunday afternoon.
“There’s nothing better than winning a section title, except winning a NorCal game or a state game,” Manteca coach Mark Varnum said. “I’m so proud the way played. We’re as happy as can be but we want to win a NorCal game next week no matter who we play.”
Manteca never lost its lead, but top-seeded Oakdale (9-3) managed to overcome a 21-7 halftime deficit and tie the game at 28-28 with 10:28 remaining. After that, both teams had two empty possessions before Manteca got the ball back at its own 41-yard line with 38 seconds remaining.
On its first play, Wyatt scrambled from the pocket before heaving the ball toward Allen at the Oakdale 25-yard line. He shed two defenders and out-ran the remaining Mustangs to the end zone.
“We ran the play, but it wasn’t open, so I ran across the field and Blake threw it,” Allen said. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates.”
Varnum said Wyatt played with more confidence Friday than when he did when Manteca lost at Oakdale 28-0 four weeks ago in their Valley Oak League matchup.
“In the first game he’d scramble a little bit and run,” Varnum said. “Tonight, he kept his eyes down field and made another legendary throw that’s going to last forever. Obviously, Zion is the fastest guy in the VOL, and the fastest guy in the section. It was a huge, huge game tonight.”
The Mustangs were playing in their ninth section title game in the past 11 years and, this year, had outscored its last five opponents by a combined point margin of 218-7.
However, Blake Nichelson was among several Manteca players unable to play in that Oct. 29 game at Oakdale.
On Friday, Nichelson rushed 28 times for 185 yards, including an 8-yard score giving Manteca a 14-7 lead. Earlier, on fourth-and-goal at the Oakdale 4-yard line, Wyatt (6-for-9, 124 yards, 3 touchdowns) found Garrison Reis for the game’s opening score.
Manteca was gifted a turnover just before halftime when a Manteca punt struck an Oakdale player and Isaiah White pounced on it at the Oakdale 45-yard line. One play later, Wyatt connected with Allen on a perfect 45-yard touchdown pass.
“Zion is a great player who deserves more attention that what he gets,” Nichelson said. “Obviously, you see it on the field.”
The Buffaloes have won eight section titles, compared to five for the Mustangs, who last won a section title in 2016.
“It was a great effort by our kids to come back to make it a game,” Oakdale coach Trent Merzon said. “These are two great football teams. Hats off to the Buffaloes, they made one more play than we did tonight.”
This article originally appeared on The Record: Manteca beats Oakdale in Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship