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POSTED October 1, 2009 2:31 a.m.
Valley Oak League
SIERRA (3-0) at EAST UNION (2-1)
Kickoff: Friday, 7:15 p.m.
Last year: 36-7, Sierra
Key matchup: East Union front seven vs. Sierra RB Jarrod Daniels. Daniels rushed for 389 yards and eight scores in the preseason. Keeping him in check would give EU’s potent offense more opportunities to do damage.
Closer look: Sierra has a five-game winning streak going against the Lancers and claimed eight of the last nine crosstown meetings. East Union lost the last five by an average margin of 29.4 points. The upstart Lancers should provide a stiffer challenge this time around behind QB Dennis Johnson (46-of-67, 639 yards, seven TDs, three INTs) and RB Teejay Gordon (311 yards, four TDs), but they haven’t faced a defense as stout as Sierra’s yet. Sierra snapped a three-year losing streak to powerful Patterson last week, 17-6, but Coach Jeff Harbison wasn’t impressed by the performance.  

Kickoff: Friday, 7 p.m.
Last year: 31-13, Manteca
Key matchup: Weston Ranch front seven vs. Manteca RB Marquis Miller. Miller (375 yards, four TDs) accounts for 43 percent of Manteca’s offensive yardage from scrimmage. The Buffaloes love to pound it at defenses, which is bad news for Weston Ranch’s depth-lacking defense.
Closer look: Weston Ranch hasn’t beaten Manteca since establishing its varsity team in 2004 and is a long shot to get No. 1 out of the way this year. Weston Ranch has been solid defensively but gets worn down because the offense’s inability to sustain drives. The Cougars have scored just six touchdowns so far, two coming off interceptions returns and another on a kickoff return. They did well to hold Tokay scoreless for a half last week but ultimately fell, 24-0. The Buffaloes will look to build on their 55-0 thrashing of Enochs with a big showdown against Sierra looming on Oct. 9.

Kickoff: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Last year: First meeting.
Key matchup: Lathrop OL vs. LBs Zack Gravel and Jonathan Golliher. The Spartans will have their hands full in protecting QBs Elijah Cash and Pablo Chavez and the rest of their backfield teammates. Gravel already has six sacks, and Golliher leads the Lions with 26 tackles.
Closer look: First-year Lathrop ends its run of games against Manteca Unified rivals and starts the rest of its independent schedule in Modesto. Big Valley Christian, the defending Harvest Christian League champion, is a good test for the Spartans. Golliher, only a sophomore, is the Lions’ leader on both sides of scrimmage, as he has rushed for 391 yards and five TDs. Lathrop also has senior veteran D.J. Pichta (245 yards, four TDs) to worry about. Records are deceiving in this matchup, as Lathrop’s previous three opponents came against established medium-sized programs, while Big Valley has played a softer schedule.

RIPON (2-1) at BRET HARTE (2-1)
Kickoff: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Last year: 42-7, Ripon
Key matchup: Ripon secondary vs. Bret Harte QB Robby Bragg. Ripon’s defense did well to limit Argonaut’s rugged running game for three quarters last week, and doing so again Friday could open things up for Bragg. Bragg, who started as a sophomore in 2008, has thrown for 507 yards, four TDs and four picks.
Closer look: Ripon and Hughson figure to be the two teams battling it out for a playoff spot in the Trans Valley League, and Bret Harte opened some eyes with a 28-14 victory over Hughson last week. The young Indians will learn where they’re at in their development Friday night. After quality wins over two of Bret Harte’s Mother Lode League rivals, Linden and Summerville, Ripon’s offense stalled against conference favorite Argonaut and was plagued by mistakes and penalties. The Indians have two more games to clean it  up before the regular season starts, and two more non-league wins would put them in a good position to qualify for the postseason.

Kickoff: Friday, 8 p.m.
Last year: 41-14, Ripon Christian
Key matchup: Ripon Christian LB Josiah Neeley vs. Denair RB Dylan Souza. Two small-school standouts will clash. Neeley leads the area with 52 tackles, and Souza has 408 rushing yards and five TDs. Denair’s passing attack has struggled thus far, so the Knights’ focus will be on Souza.
Closer look: Ripon Christian has fared well against the Southern League, its new home starting next year, beating Delhi and Waterford for its two wins. Denair, though, is much improved from 2008 and has depth and experience on the lines. It’s been all or nothing for both teams so far, with all of their games ending in blowouts. They match up well on paper and are due for a close one.
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