E. Union at W. Ranch
Weston Ranch may have earned the distinction of being the best 1-4 team around. It was in position to beat powerhouses Calaveras and Sonora and had Manteca on the ropes early on last week.
The Cougars are coming off three tough-to-swallow losses, and urgency is beginning to set in with the playoff window closing. Homecoming night is a good time for them to right the ship, and there are winnable games ahead.
East Union (1-1, 1-4) has struggled defensively, but so has Weston Ranch — both allow an average of over 30 points per game. That bodes well for two offenses that have quick-striking ability.
Lathrop at Oakdale
The easiest part of the schedule is in the rear-view mirror for the Spartans (0-2, 1-4).
Ahead are two encounters with undefeated teams in the next three weeks starting with Oakdale — the Sac-Joaquin Section’s sixth-ranked team by MaxPreps, which also ranks the Mustangs 39th in the state.
Escalon at Ripon
A humbling 49-13 loss at Hilmar followed by a Week-5 bye makes Ripon (1-1, 4-1) dangerous in this Trans-Valley League showdown against favored Escalon.
The Cougars (1-0, 5-0) have conquered their previous five opponents, including a benchmark 14-7 win over Division-III powerhouse Patterson, while giving up a grand total of 20 points in the process. Escalon’s powerful wing-T offense — led by Josh Miguel (485 yards, 10.8 per carry, 8 touchdowns) and Matt Roberson (420-8.6-10) — will give Ripon fits, so it will be up to the Indians’ own multi-dimensional attack to keep up.
Denair at Ripon Christian
The most competitive game that Denair (0-5) has been in was a 42-22 nonleague loss to Bret Harte.
The rest of the Hawks’ losses were by an average margin of 47.5 points, including last week’s 78-0 drubbing by Le Grand.
Ripon Christian (0-2, 1-4 overall) is also without a win in Southern League play. That should change Saturday even with standout quarterback Danny Vos (whiplash) likely sidelined, but the pressure will be on sophomore RB Andrew Brown and the offensive line to control the game.
The Knights are coming off a rugged four-game stretch (Ripon, Linden, Le Grand, Mariposa) and the rest of the schedule is much easier.
The intense football rivalry between Manteca and Sierra resumes Friday at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium, but two of the area’s brightest stars may not play a part in it.
Sierra running back Anthony Cota — who transferred from Manteca after his freshman year — is most likely out with a broken forearm sustained in the Oakdale game two weeks ago.
For the Buffaloes, who are undefeated through five games, quarterback Alex Martinez is questionable with an injured thumb that he described as “bruised” after last Friday’s 48-14 win at Weston Ranch.
There are signal callers in the area who boast bigger numbers, but none have been as efficient as Martinez, who has completed 68 percent of his passes for 817 yards and six touchdowns vs. zero interceptions.
He finished last week’s game 4-for-6 with 77 yards and two TD strikes to Eric Ceja before injuring his thumb late in the first half. Ryan Fox, more of a dual threat with his running ability, completed one pass for a 20-yard TD and also scored on a 16-yard scamper.
“Alex is doing everything he can to play — the kid is having a great year,” Manteca coach Eric Reis said. “Ryan Fox played very well in the second half last week against Weston Ranch. He threw a couple really nice long balls and did a nice job of directing the offense.
“Whoever is under center, we are confident he will get the job done.”
Cota’s replacement, Jayson Manuta, proved more than capable of handling the load in a 46-12 win over East Union last week, rushing for 91 yards in 14 attempts and catching a pass for a 25-yard gain.
But the biggest producer was quarterback Anthony Perea who had his best game of the season — 13-of-26 passing, 256 yards, three touchdowns, one interception; 16 rushes, 74 yards, two touchdowns.
Zach Penirian caught eight passes for 133 yards and two scores, and Jordan Lewis hit paydirt on a 75-yard pass play, so there are still weapons for Manteca to be wary of.
Ceja (22 catches, 481 yards, six TDs) and Penerian (29-389-4) aren’t the biggest and fastest, but they arguably are two of the best receivers in the area.
“Sierra has one of the top offenses in our league, hands down,” Reis said. “They were able to move the ball very well in both halves vs. Oakdale. … It all starts with the QB in their system, and Perea has shown the ability to run and throw it very well.”
No matter who the starting QB is for Manteca, Sierra has to try and limit the Buffaloes’ ground game anyway. That was a problem area for the Timberwolves (1-1, 2-3) in their losses, and Manteca — which uses up to four backs (Danny Gouveia, Cameron Harvey, Jamontee Jones, Joe Trout) — averages 235 yards on the ground.
Manteca leads the all-time series 11-5, winning eight of the last 10.
While it’s a big game for Sierra, which is in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007 — it’s not a do-or-die. Last year, the Timberwolves were 2-4 after the Manteca game but ran the table to earn a Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III playoff berth, and their final five regular-season contests are again winnable.