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TEN MUST-SEE GAMES

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POSTED August 29, 2013 9:52 p.m.

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Sept. 6 (Week 1)
Orestimba at East Union: Both teams broke postseason droughts by qualifying in 2010, but EU hasn’t been back since. Orestimba made it back in 2011 and went 5-5 last year while competing in the rugged Trans-Valley League. The Lancers totaled two wins since 2010 and dropped two straight to Orestimba, but they appear poised for a turnaround behind their revamped offense and confident defense. A bubble contender like Orestimba, led by standout RB Steven Machado (1,927 yards, 23 TD, makes for a good early litmus test for EU. A win here could go a long way.

Sept. 27 (Week 4)
Sonora at Manteca: What a way to kick off the Valley Oak League season! This will be the final VOL showdown between two of the conference’s original programs, as Sonora — with its dwindling student population — moves to the Mother Lode League after the 2013-14 school year. Blowouts have been rare in recent years in this traditional rivalry, and their 2012 meeting was another classic. Manteca trailed all game and was down 14-0 at halftime before taking its only lead with 27 seconds remaining and holding on for a 27-20 win to dampen Sonora’s homecoming festivities.,

Escalon at Ripon: Just down the road from the anticipated Sonora-Manteca game is another doozy. Not to be outdone, the TVL has its own marquee opener between old-school rivals. Last year, Ripon took its first steps toward the league crown with a wacky 34-28 win at Escalon. The Indians appeared to be on their way to a surprisingly one-sided victory while sitting on a 28-7 fourth-quarter lead. Then Escalon mounted a big comeback, tying it 28-28 at one point before Ripon retook the lead for good with 55.9 seconds to go. Ripon hadn’t beaten the Cougars since the mid 1990s and will look to make it two straight on its renovated Stouffer Field.

Nov. 1 (Week 9)
Manteca at Sierra: The VOL championship could come down to this crosstown grudge match. They split their last six encounters, with all but one decided by single-digit margins. Another nail-biter would not be surprising in the 2013 confrontation, and it could be a high-scoring affair. Two of the region’s top senior QBs will be featured in this game, as Jake Pruitt leads Sierra’s high-flying spread offense while Manteca counters with Joe Menzel and a balanced, physical attack.

Nov. 8 (Week 10)
Le Grand at Ripon Christian: On Nov. 2, 2012, Le Grand was riding a 35-game winning streak (dating back to 2008) in the Southern League and getting ready to celebrate senior night with yet another outright championship. Ripon Christian reminded the Bulldogs that there was a game still to be played, taking an early lead and never surrendering it en route to a 35-21 shocker that forced a three-way title share with Waterford. Le Grand went on to earn a third straight SJS title. With both teams returning some of their top playmakers, the rematch could again be both meaningful and exciting.

AWAY

Aug. 30 (Week 0)
Sierra at Tracy: No area team will be tested out the gate as much as Sierra. Not only are expectations high for the talented Tracy team, but emotions will be as well on this night as the school reveals its new Wayne Schneider Stadium. To top it off, the Bulldogs will be eager to avenge last year’s 32-26 loss. It was a renewal of former Valley Oak League foes, and if the two programs agree to keep it going this could be a must-watch nonleague contest for years to come. Oh, and the tri-tip sandwiches are to die for.

Oct. 4 (Week 5)
Sierra at Sonora: The Timberwolves have gotten over many humps in recent years. Winning their first game at Sonora’s revered Dunlavy Field isn’t one of them. The curse continued in 2011 when Sierra endured a frustrating 51-37 defeat. The game itself is worth watching because of title and playoff implications. The unique seating arrangement, the on-field band and food make for an awesome Friday night atmosphere. If you haven’t watched a game in Sonora yet this is the time to head to the foothills, as the Wildcats are moving to the Mother Lode League after the school year.

Oct. 11 (Week 6)
Manteca at Oakdale: Perhaps this is the year that 12th-year Manteca head coach Eric Reis gets to celebrate a victory at The Corral. Manteca carries high expectations with many of its top talent returning, and no team in the VOL is hit as hard by graduation as six-time defending champion Oakdale. The Mustangs are coming off a magical run that included Section and NorCal championships. It’s a tough act to follow for a young and unproven group, but with 5,000-plus fans backing them they always have a big advantage at The Corral, where coach Trent Merzon has lost just two league games in his 13 seasons.

Ripon at Hughson: Can Hughson make the big splash that Ripon did in 2012? Many believe the Huskies can and will. Meanwhile, Ripon is out to show that it is here to stay. This is no doubt a statement game for both teams. Running back Tanner Duron (1,806 yards, 22 TDs) and QB/RB Kyle Kerlee (1,047 rushing, 7 TDs) were juniors a year ago when Hughson nearly spoiled Ripon’s bid for a perfect regular season, losing 35-27. They are joined by a third dynamic threat out of the backfield in junior QB Devondre Stendardo and others from a 9-1 sophomore team.

Oct. 18 (Week 7)
Sierra at Oakdale: As previously stated, Oakdale has only two league losses at The Corral under 13-year head coach Trent Merzon. One of those defeats came at the hands of Sierra in an epic 2009 battle. The Timberwolves’ 44-42 victory earned them a share of their VOL title, and both teams went on to reach the semifinal round of the SJS Division III playoffs. Sierra hasn’t beaten the Mustangs since and none of those games were close. It’s part of a big stretch for Oakdale, which also hosts Manteca in Week 6.

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