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POSTED October 8, 2009 1:33 a.m.
Valley Oak League

MANTECA (3-1) at SIERRA (4-0)
• Kickoff: Friday, 7:15 p.m.
• Last year: 7-6, Sierra.
• Key matchup: Manteca LB Adam DeCosta vs. Sierra RB Jarrod Daniels. Daniels pounded out 145 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries against Manteca last year. He is currently the area’s leading rusher with 523 yards and 12 TDs, while DeCosta leads Manteca with 35 tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles and two interceptions.
• Closer look: Two of the VOL’s best defenses will match up against run-oriented offenses. Manteca is coming off back-to-back shutouts of Enochs and Weston Ranch, while Sierra held East Union’s passing attack to just 12 points. Manteca RB Marquis Miller had his least productive game (19 carries, 57 yards) against Sierra last year, and the Timberwolves will likely key in on him again.

• Kickoff: Friday, 7:15 p.m.
• Last year: Weston Ranch 31, East Union 7
• Key matchup: WR Angell Mayfield vs. East Union CB T.J. Brown. At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Mayfield is one of the league’s most explosive receiving threats. Brown (two picks) is an outstanding wide out in his own right, but his status is in question after exiting last week’s game early with an injury.
• Closer look: Not counting first-year varsity Lathrop, East Union hasn’t beaten a Manteca Unified rival since defeating Sierra 42-21 in 2003. Weston Ranch has won all five of its contests with the Lancers, but that streak could end Friday. The Cougars have scored just three offensive touchdowns from scrimmage, and the defense will be tested by the area’s top signal caller in Dennis Johnson.


LATHROP (0-4) at BELLA VISTA (4-0)
• Kickoff: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
• Last year: N/A
• Key matchup: Lathrop defense vs. Bella Vista QB Branden Lang. Lang has thrown for 733 yards and eight TDs and is also the Broncos’ leading rusher with 210 yards and five TDs.
• Closer look: The Spartans’ independent schedule gets no easier. Bella Vista of the competitive Capital Valley Conference beat its previous non-league opponents by an average margin of 24.75 points. Lathrop, behind workhorse back Xavier Walden, is coming off its best performance of the season — a heartbreaking 22-13 loss to reigning Harvest Christian League champion Big Valley Christian.

CALAVERAS (2-2) at RIPON (3-1)
• Kickoff: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
• Last year: 26-16, Calaveras.
• Key matchup: Ripon LB Nick Curtice vs. Calaveras RB Monti Wilson. The fleet-footed Wilson is the engine of Calaveras’ offense. His 555 rushing yards and seven TDs makes up the majority of the unit’s production. Curtice is a sure tackler, and he leads the Indians with 35 stops.
• Closer look: Calaveras’ two losses were close ones against traditionally tough Bear River (9-0) and Hilmar (21-14). There’s a lot riding on the last of five non-conference contest for both Calaveras and Ripon, which has dropped five straight to the Redskins. The victor takes momentum into a tough regular-season schedule, and Friday’s contest could help clinch a playoff berth down the road. All of the Indians’ preseason games are against Calaveras and some of its Mother Lode League rivals, and they have fared well so far. Ripon opens the Trans Valley League on the road against Hughson, which will also contend for a playoff spot, so these next two weeks are key.

• Kickoff: Friday, 8 p.m.
• Last year: Ripon Christian 50, Turlock Christian 14
• Key matchup: Ripon Christian FB/LB Josiah Neeley vs. Turlock Christian QB/LB Robbie Smallwood. Both teams’ star players will go at it on both sides of scrimmage. Neeley leads the area with 68 tackles while forcing three fumbles and recovering two. He also has 241 rushing yards and two TDs on offense, where he will try and limit Smallwood (6.5 sacks). Smallwood has thrown for 539 yards, nine TDs and seven picks.
• Closer look: It’s the calm before the storm that is the TVL for Ripon Christian, which join Turlock Christian in the Southern League next year. Turlock Christian is coming off a down year after claiming the SL title in 2007. The Eagles opened the season with a 33-12 victory over Harvest Christian League champ Big Valley Christian. A win for Ripon Christian would mark the second straight year that it heads into the regular season with a winning record.
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