Keeping Manteca on the schedule was a priority for Lathrop head coach Joe Pirillo as he worked to revamp the Spartans’ nonleague slate.
They are now members of the new-look Western Athletic Conference, but before getting acquainted with a new set of rivals they’ll get reacquainted with a few of their former Valley Oak League foes.
First up is reigning Sac-Joaquin Section Division III champion Manteca, which visits Bennie Gatto Field tonight. The Spartans head to Kimball next week before welcoming another Manteca Unified rival in Sierra on Sept. 7.
Pirillo is a 2004 Manteca grad, but scheduling his alma mater wasn’t just for sentimental reasons. With CalPreps ratings — which takes strength of schedule into account — playing a larger role under the section’s new postseason format, facing the powerhouse Buffaloes can benefit his team no matter the outcome.
“We wanted to make sure we had Manteca,” Pirillo said. “They travel well and it’s good competition. If we can raise our game, why wouldn’t we want to play them? They’re using CalPreps to measure teams for playoffs, so you may as well have someone on your schedule worth a lick.”
Tonight also marks the varsity head coaching debut for Manteca’s Mark Varnum, who served as offensive coordinator for the 2017 section championship team under Eric Reis.
Varnum and his coaches will match wits with Pirillo’s staff that has welcomed four new members from Sierra. Among them is Andrew Panigada, Pirillo’s cousin, who was an assistant for Manteca last year.
The Spartans will unveil their new spread offense previously used at Sierra.
“Coach Pirillo is a former Buff, and we know coach Panigada from last year,” Varnum said. “It will be good to see them again, but this is a business trip for us. We’re looking to play good football. I know they’re going to be fired up and I know our kids will be ready for it.”
All seven Manteca-area squads are in action tonight, and all but one have a new season-opening opponents.
Here’s a closer look at the rest of the zero-week matchups:
East Union at Downey: East Union coasted into VOL play with undefeated records the past three seasons. Stocked with returning talent from a 7-4 squad, head coach Willie Herrera decided test his Lancers out the gate.
They’re heading to Downey of Modesto to square off with a perennial contender in the Modesto Metro Conference, and this has the potential to be an explosive high-scoring affair.
The Knights (8-3) are coming off a 2017 campaign that includes an eye-popping 74-49 nonleague win at Patterson. It was Patterson that ended East Union’s season with a 63-28 win in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.
Downey is known for its prolific aerial attack, and it’s led by UC Davis-bound receiver Bryce Peterson. Peterson, who may also see time at running back, was the Knights’ QB a season ago, accumulating 2,808 yards and 26 touchdowns while rushing for 450 and nine.
Sierra at Modesto Christian: Former Ripon coach Chris Johnson is going back to his Trans-Valley League roots with this intriguing season opener.
Now in his second year at Sierra, Johnson will introduce the Timberwolves to a small-school program with big-school talent. Although Mike Parsons’ Modesto Christian roster tops out at 19, it’s stacked with impressive athletes like 6-foot-6, 240-pound defensive end Xavier Carlton, who is garnering plenty of interest from NCAA Division I teams.
The Crusaders also have 6-3, 285-pound Landon Wright in the trenches, a budding two-way standout in 6-0, 200-pound RB/LB Isaac Schinman and returning quarterback Hayden Sauser who led MC to the SJS Division VI title game.
Weston Ranch at Ripon: Ripon scrapped its annual meeting with Sierra but replaces the Timberwolves with another VOL team.
The Indians reunite with Weston Ranch after previously beating the Cougars twice in their first-ever meetings back in 2006-07. It’s a good first test for two squads low on numbers with stiff competition ahead.
The only two returning quarterbacks among area schools will be featured at Stouffer Field tonight, as third-year starter Ryan Daggett (1,115 yards, 15 TDs) spearheads the host Indians opposite Weston Ranch’s dynamic Amier Bowen (2,556 yards, 20 TDs; 629 rushing yards, six TDs).
Worth noting: Ripon standout RB/OLB Roland Davis is the son of recently-hired Weston Ranch athletic director Roland Davis.
Millennium at Ripon Christian: The Knights began their 2017 march to the SJS Division VII final with a 42-0 thrashing of Millennium, outgaining the Falcons from Tracy 295-17 in offensive yardage.
Millennium competes in the Central California Athletic Alliance and finished 3-7 last year. Isaiah Woods (1,098 yards, 10 touchdowns) was one of two 1,000-yard rushers on the team and returns along with defensive end Nathan Graf (90 tackles, 11.5 sacks) and 6-5, 255-pound lineman Col