The race for the Sac-Joaquin Section’s blue championship pennants begins tonight for two of the area’s four teams still standing.
Manteca plays host to Rio Americano as it begins its quest for a second straight section title, this time in Division III after coasting to the Division IV crown last year. Seeded 13th for a second straight season, East Union seeks its first postseason win since 1992 as it travels to Patterson.
Ripon’s Division V opener at second-seeded Calaveras will take place Friday, while Ripon Christian gets a bye as the No. 2 seed in the six-team Division VII bracket. The Knights await the winner of No. 3 Stone Ridge Christian and No. 6 Brookside Christian.
So how do the four squads stack up in their respective divisions? Here’s a closer look at the competition:
Favorite: No. 1 Oakdale (9-1).
Contenders: No. 2 Manteca (8-2), No. 3 Christian Brothers (8-2), No. 4 Patterson (9-1).
Darkhorse: No. 10 River Valley (7-3)
The skinny: Hard to argue the favorite here. Oakdale is, after all, the defending champion in the bracket and went on to claim the CIF State Division III-A crown last season. The Mustangs’ impressive 2017 resume includes convincing wins over Division V top seed Sonora and Manteca. They also edged out D-II third seed Central Catholic for the Valley Oak League title in Week 10. Folsom, the top seed and favorite in Division I, handed the Mustangs their only loss.
There are intriguing semifinal matchups ahead if the top four seeds can avoid upsets. Manteca and Christian Brothers are lined up for a potential rematch of their thrilling Week 1 showdown at Sacramento City College’s Hughes Stadium, where the Buffaloes came back from a late two-score deficit and won, 36-35. Christian Brothers’ current eight-game winning streak includes a 38-31 victory over No. 5 Vista del Lago (6-4).
If there’s a lower seed primed for a deep run it’s River Valley, possibly Manteca’s next opponent. The Falcons’ three losses came in the competitive Tri-County Conference, and they played Division II second seed Inderkum tough in a 25-20 defeat.
Favorite: No. 3 Capital Christian (7-3)
Contenders: No. 1 Sonora (8-2), No. 2 Calaveras (9-1)
Darkhorse: No. 5 Colfax (7-3)
The skinny: Of the small-school brackets, this one is packed with the most parity. An impressive win over Division VI No. 2 seed Escalon and a tri-championship in the Trans-Valley League weren’t good enough to land seventh-seeded Ripon a home game.
With the most size and athleticism in the Division V field, Capital Christian stands a good chance at repeating as champion. The Cougars rolled to the title in 2016 as the No. 4 seed and have a new head coach in Casey Taylor, who previously led highly-successful Del Oro. Capital Christian has only gotten better in recent weeks with the addition of touted transfer quarterback Jake Cruz. Two of its three losses were to highly-ranked teams out of Idaho and Nevada.
Sonora is also battle-tested after dropping its first two contests, including a shocking 27-12 loss at Lodi. The Wildcats have righted the ship and beat No. 2 Calaveras 59-50 en route to earning a fourth straight Mother Lode League title, but their best player, RB/S Kane Rodgers, is lost for the season with a broken leg.
Colfax is a team to look out for. All of its losses were to Pioneer Valley League opponents, including a one-score setback against much-favored Division IV top seed Placer. The Falcons open with undefeated Orestimba, which hasn’t faced a team near the caliber of Colfax.
Favorite: No. 2 Ripon Christian (6-4)
Contenders: No. 1 Rio Vista (7-3), No. 4 Woodland Christian (9-1)
Darkhorse: No. 5 Big Valley Christian (9-1)
The skinny: Ripon Christian gets to play like-sized opponents in the postseason for the first time after the section opened up Division VII to schools outside of the Sacramento Metro Athletic League and Central California Athletic Alliance.
The Knights would have likely been the top seed if not for their 10-6 Week 10 loss to Delhi, but there are still good reasons to like their chances despite the hiccup. Their most impressive win of the season came in Week 1 against third-seeded Stone Ridge Christian, 35-6. Stone Ridge (9-1) knocked off previously-unbeaten Big Valley Christian 24-14 last week to capture the CCAA crown.
Sierra Delta League runner-up Rio Vista kicked off its season with an 80-46 shelling of Brookside Christian, seeded sixth in the bracket. Big Valley’s Week-10 loss gives the Lions the longest road to the final — literally. They have to travel to SMAL champion Woodland Christian, and a win would reward them with a trip to Rio Vista.