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Chasing Mustangs
MHS tabbed as top challenger for favored Oakdale
Manteca High quarterback Alex Martinez has picked up where the Buffaloes vaunted air attack left off last season. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Valley Oak League

1. Oakdale    40 (5)

2. Manteca    35

3. Sierra    26

4. Sonora    26

5. Kimball    23

6. W. Ranch    15

7. Lathrop    9

8. East Union    6

First-place votes in parentheses. Participating newspapers: Manteca Bulletin, Modesto Bee, Oakdale Leader, Tracy Press and Sonora Union Democrat.

No real scoop here: Oakdale High is the favorite to win the Valley Oak League, and with good reason.

The Mustangs (3-0) have blown out top opponents — such as Turlock, 33-7, and Rancho Cotate (Rohnert Park) of the North Coast Section, 51-21 — in nonleague play and are ranked seventh in the Sac-Joaquin Section by

Last season, they shared the VOL crown with Manteca and made it all the way to the SJS Division-III playoff finals, losing to Sacramento-area power Del Oro, 21-0. With five sophomores playing prominent roles on that team, including QB Spencer Thomas, the Mustangs are aiming to return to the championship game and not come away empty-handed in 2011.

Oakdale and Manteca are the only undefeated squads left in the VOL and were unanimously polled to finish 1 and 2 by local media.

Their Week 9 meeting could decide the championship, but a lot can happen between now and then. And there is always something on the line in the annual Week-10 rivalry showdown between Oakdale and Sonora, which is in Sonora this year.

Manteca is riding high off back-to-back victories against larger and more athletic teams out of Stockton. The Buffaloes’ passing game and back-by-committee ground attack are working wonders, but their defense has been their strength.

That was displayed in their 32-12 blowout of previously unbeaten Stagg, which boasts three agile receivers each standing at least 6 feet, 2 inches tall. Manteca has only given up 25 points so far.

Sonora (2-1) and Sierra (1-2) are predicted to battle it out for third place, but there is enough talent on both teams to force their way up higher.

Sonora was in a shootout in Week 2, losing to Division-I Modesto 34-33. The Wildcats rebounded well with last week’s 33-19 victory over traditional small-school powerhouse Calaveras, a team they could meet again in the Division-IV playoffs.

Sonora’s junior class went 10-0 at the sophomore level last year, and 6-3, 220 fullback Nolan Dambacher is a juggernaut out of the backfield.

The Timberwolves of Sierra have been an enigma so far, but they’re hoping their Week-3 bye will remedy their issues with consistency going into Friday’s game in Oakdale.

Sierra lost 19-10 in its zero-week rematch with reigning Modesto Metro Conference titlist Enochs but failed to deliver in the red zone and in the fourth quarter. And it was outscored 27-7 in the second half of its 40-33 road defeat to Laguna Creek, an undefeated team which has two other victories against winless squads.

But with RB Anthony Cota anchoring the spread offense, Sierra is dangerous enough to beat anyone in the VOL.

Second-year varsity Kimball (1-2) of Tracy is competing with its first senior class and represents the largest school in the VOL with an enrollment nearing 2,000 (Oakdale is the next largest with 1,600). The Jaguars took their lumps last year before notching their first win against Lathrop in Week 10, 26-21.

Kimball split its crosstown rivalry contests against West (29-13 loss) and Tracy (29-22 win) and dropped its opener 28-18 to 3-1 Cosumnes Oaks of Elk Grove, so the Jags are battle-tested for the big games to come in the VOL.

Weston Ranch (1-2) sandwiched disappointing losses with an impressive 41-25 win at Tokay. In Week 1, the Cougars proved to be a worthy opponent for Calaveras, which was fortunate to leave Weston Ranch victorious, 27-15. They took a step back last week with a 24-0 defeat to Bear Creek.

Lathrop (1-2) is still building in its third varsity season, and its coaches are encouraged by the commitment of this year’s Spartans. Their lone win of the season, 27-22 over McClatchy, was a one-sided affair until the reserves allowed the opponent to climb back in the fourth quarter.

East Union (0-3) is rebuilding under first-year head coach Willie Herrera after qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in 17 years. The offense has had its moments with sophomore Joe Menzel behind center, but the defense is allowing an average of 34 points per game.