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Sierra on bubble for D4 playoffs

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POSTED November 7, 2013 2:06 a.m.

Manteca is in at Division III.

Lock Ripon in at Division IV.

Ripon Christian’s spot is secured at Division VI.

Sierra? That remains to be seen.

The final regular-season contests will be played this Friday and Saturday throughout the Sac-Joaquin Section, and league titles, postseason berths and seedings are at stake.

Manteca (8-1) already has sole rights to the Valley Oak League title going into Friday’s rivalry bout with 1-8 East Union, but the Buffaloes would love a top-four seed in the section’s loaded Division III bracket. The Sacramento Bee has them at the No. 2 spot in its latest playoff projections.

The Sac Bee also has Ripon (9-1) and Ripon Christian (8-1) with the second seeds at the smaller divisions. Ripon is in the middle of its conveniently-scheduled bye week before the postseason, while RC hosts Division V powerhouse Le Grand this Friday for the Southern League championship.

As for Sierra, this is where it gets interesting. Qualifying teams (top 64 in Divisions I-IV and 12 in Divisions V-VI) are placed in divisions based on their school’s 2012 enrollment with a few exceptions. St. Mary’s, for example, has a Division IV enrollment of 941 but cannot drop lower than II.

Sierra can guarantee a berth with its seventh win Friday against Weston Ranch. While six wins had been the landmark figure for postseason hopefuls under this still-new format, which started in 2009, SJS Director of Communications Will DeBoard warns that this could be the year that 6-4 teams do not get in. The top two teams in every league get automatic berths.

According to the Sacramento Bee, Sierra may sneak in at Division IV where it would be major threat to the small-school heavies. Vista del Lago, with an enrollment of 1,433, is the largest Division IV school in the projections, with Sierra not far behind at 1,390.

If the playoffs started today, the Timberwolves are seeded 11th by the Bee, which would line them up for a winnable game against No. 6 Calaveras (7-2). Then it’s on to No. 3 Capital Christian (8-1) or No. 14 Escalon (5-4), two other teams Sierra could beat with its fast-paced spread offense. Sierra could climb up to No. 8 or 9 and end up playing No. 1 seed Hilmar, a school with less than half the population of Sierra’s with 662.

There would also be a potential matchup with Ripon, which would be a doozy for Manteca-area fans.

As for other projected openers in the area, Manteca could have a tough first-round draw with Sacramento-area titans Christian Brothers, Vanden and Casa Roble roaming on the lower end of Division III. The Buffaloes will try to break a four-year streak of first-round exits.

Back to Division IV, where three Trans-Valley League squads (Hughson, Escalon, Modesto Christian) look to clinch berths. With TVL-leading Hilmar and second-place Ripon on the top end, there would be some juggling by the section in this scenario to avoid first-round games between league opponents. Ripon may have to settle for Placer, which has a chance to earn the Pioneer Valley League title this week.

Ripon Christian would open with a bye in Division VI if it does end up with a top-two seed. Vacaville Christian is the largest school projected in the division, which lessens the possibility of RC moving up to the more competitive Division V bracket. Should they stay at VI, the Knights would be big favorites to capture their first-ever blue banner in football.

Final brackets will be revealed in an online show this Saturday at about 4:30. A link to the show will be available at www.cifsjs.org.

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