Billy Simon picked up a Manteca fumble on the opening kickoff, and on the next play, Depray Celestine ran the ball around the right side for a touchdown. Max Garrigan made the kick for the point-after.
It was just the boost the Bulldogs needed to start off against one of their toughest rivals.
“Just to come up on Manteca like that – the last two years we’ve lost to Manteca – and to finally seize the opportunity … it’s amazing,” Simon said. He grabbed the loose ball on the 8-yard line to set up Celestine’s first big play of the night.
“We knew we couldn’t lose,” Celestine said. “I told my team, we cannot lose this game. We are not losing again at our house.”
Manteca got as far as midfield on the next series before the Buffaloes gave up the ball, but got a break right after the punt when Adam DeCosta intercepted a Casey Wichman pass on the Tracy 38-yard line. The Buffaloes, led by Marquis Miller, drove through Tracy territory to the 1-yard line, and Miller made push up the middle for a touchdown.
On the following kickoff, Celestine struck again, catching the ball on the Tracy 5-yard line. With some key blocks, he scrambled past the Buffalo defense and sprinted 95 yards for the touchdown. Garrigan made the kick.
On Tracy’s next possession, the Bulldogs made a steady drive and Wichman made a 5-yard run for a score, making it 21-7 after the extra point.
Manteca made a quick dash up the field to close the margin, including a 24-yard Miller run and a 25-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matt Barber to Anthony May.
Tracy ended the first half with a strong response — driving up the field with fullback Jordan Strong in the lead. To cap the drive, Wichman flipped a lateral pass to Ricky Diaz, who ran 14 yards up the left side for a touchdown. Garrigan made the kick for a 28-14 halftime advantage.
The Buffaloes pushed back after the break with a steady march and a 15-yard Barber touchdown run. The Buffs missed the point-after.
Manteca threatened again in the fourth quarter but stalled on the Tracy 15-yard line.
Strong pushed for 32 yards to jump-start Tracy’s answering drive. Another Celestine run around the right side, this time for 36 yards into the end zone, put the Bulldogs up 35-20 after Garrigan’s kick.
Celestine’s third score would prove the final one in the game. The Buffaloes got the ball once more for small advances, and Tracy ran out the clock on the Bulldogs’ next possession.
The win puts Tracy at 2-0, but even this early it could prove to be a big win.
“It certainly can’t be the climax of our season,” coach Mark Stroup said. “We’ve got a ways to go, but it’s nice to say that Manteca is behind us and we beat them.”
Senior fullback Strong has been there the last two years when Tracy faced Manteca and knows that other teams on the Bulldogs’ schedule were looking to see who would be victorious on Friday.
“We’re going to get what we want if we keep on playing like that,” he said. “Junior year we could have beat them. I made mistakes myself, we made mistakes. This game we were spot-on.”
Strong also credits the offensive line, which made room for him and Celestine to get through a Manteca defense that knew they would be the Tracy players to stop if the Buffaloes were to have a chance. Celestine credits the defense with shutting down Manteca’s biggest offensive threats.
“Our whole game plan was to stop my cousin, Marquis Miller,” Celestine said. “I think that’s how we won. Last year he was breaking all over us and we couldn’t let that happen again.”