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Hawks contribute to own demise
Central Valley drops opener to Manteca
The members of Central Valleys varsity football team storm onto the field prior to kicking off the season against Manteca. - photo by DALE BUTLER/The Courier

Central Valley High School's varsity football team lacked focus during Thursday's walkthrough practice.

Head coach Jason McCloskey addressed his players before heading home.

"We talked about the importance of it (special teams) and how it can change a game," he said.

Visiting Manteca needed just one play to jog McCloskey's memory during Friday's season opener.

Alex Laurel ran back the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, and added three more scores as the tradition-rich Buffaloes rolled to a 47-20 win over the talented Hawks at Bulldog Stadium.

"The same thing happened last year against Gregori," McCloskey said. "It was my first play as Central Valley's new coach. I take pride in special teams. We practice them every day. I'm still baffled by it. If we would have played a clean game today, the result would have been different. Unfortunately, we kept making mistakes. This one stings because we died by our own hands. That stuff can't happen. We're better than that."

Central Valley piled up 330 yards of total offense versus Manteca, but committed two costly turnovers in its own territory on bad center-quarterback miscommunication.

The Hawks were also penalized nine times. Star running back Ja'Quan Gardner and standout all-purpose player Angelo Bermudez had 92-yard kickoff return and 70-yard rushing touchdowns called back, respectively, because of holding infractions.

Gardner ran for 117 yards and one touchdown (14 yards) on 15 carries.

Kendel Johnson, Central Valley's dual-threat quarterback, completed 5 of 13 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns. He rushed for 75 yards on 12 carries.

Bermudez grabbed three passes for 100 yards and two scores (19 and 81 yards).

Senior Alex Laurel turned in a career-best performance for Manteca (1-0).

Laurel had 307 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns.

He ran back the opening kickoff 95 yards for a score, had a 55-yard punt return touchdown and scored on a 44-yard reverse run in the first quarter.

Alex returned a punt 50 yards for a TD in the second quarter.

"We knew he was a guy they counted on last year," McCloskey said. "He's an athlete. None of our guys were taking proper angles."

Joe Menzel completed all eight of his passes for 80 yards while playing quarterback for Manteca.

The Buffaloes had 258 yards of total offense, including 178 rushing on 30 carries.

Central Valley faced a 33-14 deficit at intermission.

The Buffaloes outscored the Hawks 26-6 in the opening period.

"I'm not taking anything away from Manteca," McCloskey said. "We just didn't play to our ability. We made way too many mental mistakes. We didn't do our assignments correctly. Our guys lacked discipline. I'm more frustrated with the kids' effort on special teams than the loss itself. They know they messed up."

Central Valley embraced the challenge of facing Manteca. The Buffaloes prevented the Hawks from securing their biggest victory in program history.

"Manteca is a very solid ball club," McCloskey said. "I think we are too. The difference is we're still trying to instill the value of discipline. I talk about it all the time."

Central Valley will play against visiting Brookside Christian on Friday at Bulldog Stadium. The non-league contest will begin at 7 p.m.

"They're very athletic," McCloskey said. "We need to make sure we focus on the little things that are important and utilize our talent. We got a lot of football ahead of us. We'll get better. I feel confident we'll right the ship. The talent is there."