MANTECA — The beleaguered Buffaloes, pinned against their own end zone and trailing by two scores, desperately needed this fourth-down stop. The answer, they hoped, was in the cards.
There was no play or scheme that could save Manteca from James Sams on Friday evening.
The Modesto Bee's Offensive Player of the Year rushed for a career high 336 yards and three scores in a 42-28 victory, including the game-sealing touchdown on that fourth-down play with 7½ minutes to go.
The win continues an impressive roll for Los Banos (3-0), with victories over Escalon, Roosevelt of Fresno and now Manteca.
Once again, Sams, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound slasher, was the centerpiece. He carried the ball 39 times, finishing each run with a forward lean.
"When you got a guy like that, it makes it so much easier to give him the ball, to give him a crease," Los Banos coach Dustin Caropreso said. "Our offensive coordinator wanted to throw the ball, but I told him to just pound it.
"Why not, when you got a guy like that."
Sams covered 63 yards on his first carry, bursting through the heart of the Buffaloes' defense. Five plays later, he skipped into the end zone on a 5-yard toss to give Los Banos a 7-0 lead.
But it was his ability to finish the Buffaloes that was the difference.
Faced with a fourth-and-5 at the Manteca 8-yard line, Caropreso opted not to kick the field goal. Instead, he went with Friday's only sure thing -- Sams. The senior swept around the left edge, following the lead block of pulling guard Michael Severino into the flat.
He crashed into the end zone for the last of this three scores, this one the death blow.
"At that point, you find out who wants it more," Sams said. "We wanted this win. We knew we were well-conditioned. They're big, so we knew they'd get tired."
Manteca didn't go away quietly.
The Buffaloes scored 14 unanswered points in the second quarter to tie the game, and Alex Laurel's 93-yard kickoff return to start the second half gave the host's their first and only lead, 21-20.
Wide receiver TJ Galdos rallied Manteca.
Galdos made a diving catch on a halfback pass on the first play of the second quarter to pull Manteca within 14-7.
Two possessions later, Galdos (4 catches, 126 yards) set up Eddie Smith's scoring run with a 44-yard reception.
This night, much like each Friday night thus far, has belonged to Sams and, as Caropreso called them in the postgame huddle, "those Banos boys."
"We knew what was coming," Manteca coach Eric Reis said, "and we just couldn't stop him."