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Race for VOL title, playoffs kicks off Friday

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POSTED October 1, 2009 2:31 a.m.
East Union is 2-1.

So is Central Valley.

Ceres, expected to push the Valley Oak League favorites this season, are winless after three games — and two weren’t even close.

The topsy-turvy world of VOL football kicks off Friday, and the three weeks leading up to that point have given us some indication as to how it will all pan out in the end.

The conference has been well represented, as six out of the eight teams boast winning records going into the regular season.

Varying degrees of schedule strength surely have led to certain records, but one thing is for certain: There is no clear-cut favorite to win it all or any sure-fire bets to get buried in the bottom of the pile.

After three weeks of non-league action, we know a little more about each of the VOL’s eight teams.

For some, it’s the same ol’ same.

After crushing annual rival Turlock, 56-6, to open the season, Oakdale picked up two quality victories over 2007 California Interscholastic Federation Bowl Game finalist Novato, 34-22, and defending Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV champion Whitney, 24-7, at home.

Oakdale is currently ranked No. 5 in the NorCal Division II Bowl rankings. Novato previously owned the fifth spot, while Whitney was 7 going into last Friday’s marquee matchup.

Also still undefeated are Sierra and Sonora.

Sierra’s biggest wins came against Livermore-based Granada, of the stacked East Bay Athletic League, on the road, 27-26, and Patterson, 17-6, which had a three-game winning streak over the Timberwolves. Sierra is coming off its first section playoff appearance and is a threat to capture its first league banner.

Sonora picked up where former head coach Robert Cendro, the program’s winningest coach, left off. First-year head coach Bryan Craig has continued the Wildcats’ dominance of the Modesto Metro Conference, ending the preseason with a 16-13 victory over MMC favorite Davis.

Manteca may be picking up steam following its 55-0 throttling of Enochs on the 50th anniversary of Guss Schmiedt Field. Prior to that, the Buffaloes struggled with penalties and mistakes in a 35-20 loss to the impressive Tracy Bulldogs.

There are a few surprises from the rest of the pack.

Ceres just may end up 0-5 by the midway point of the season, as it opens the VOL with Sonora and Oakdale — both on the road. Last season, Ceres finished 2-8 but gave a few of the league’s top teams some fits.

Three-year starter Hadon Lopez, who stars at running back and linebacker, hasn’t played a down yet for the Bulldogs while nursing a knee injury.

East Union may be the biggest surprise so far.

While their wins have come against first-year Lathrop and Bear Creek, the Lancers proved their worth in a heartbreaking 41-35 loss to Division I Beyer in Week 1. The offense is what’s opening eyes, with quarterback Dennis Johnson and the linemen leading the way.

Central Valley nearly wrapped up its non-league schedule 3-0 after battling Hilmar, the section’s defending Division V champion, to a 21-all tie after three quarters. Hilmar scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth to run away with it.

Weston Ranch is a disappointing 1-2 with its only victory coming against Lathrop, but it took big plays in the fourth quarter to make that happen. The defense has been there, but will the talented athletes on offense catch up?
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