HOW TO GET THERE
• SCHOOL: Oakdale High
• ADDRESS: 739 West G Street
• DIRECTIONS: Take Yosemite Avenue/Highway 120 east and go through Escalon to Oakdale. At West F Street, turn right (west). At Gilbert Avenue, turn left (south). At G Street, turn right (west). School is on G Street, bordered by Gilbert Ave. and J St.
• SCHOOL: Sonora High
• ADDRESS: 430 N. Washington Street
• DIRECTIONS: Take Highway 120 east through Escalon and Oakdale. At the Highway 49/108 junction, turn left (north) and Highway 49 into Sonora. Highway 49 in Sonora is Washington Street. The school is on Washington Street between School Street at Shaw’s Flat Road.
All three of the high school football teams will be out of town.
Sierra High (1-2, 2-4 overall) has it the easiest with a short jaunt to Tracy for a Valley Oak League contest with winless and first-year varsity Kimball.
East Union (2-1, 5-1) and Manteca (3-0, 6-0), on the other hand, face their toughest tests of the season so far.
Manteca High’s Buffaloes will log more miles, but the excursion back from Sonora’s famed Dunlavy Field would be worth it with a victory that gives them the edge in the VOL title race.
East Union confronts defending co-champion Oakdale (3-0, 4-2) at The Corral — another matchup with title implications on the line.
While the VOL has changed plenty over the years, one thing remains the same: two of its traditional powerhouses, Oakdale and Sonora, arguably enjoy home-field advantage like no other in this half of the Sac-Joaquin Section.
“When you go in there, you don’t just play Oakdale — you play the city,” EU head coach Mike James said. “It’s a great environment for high school football and definitely a huge home-field advantage for them.”
In Sonora, the stadium’s most unique feature is the separation between the home bleachers and the away — or lack thereof. Manteca will have to hear the roar of its travelling fan base across the field, and to top it off it just so happens to be Sonora’s Homecoming week.
“We’re expecting a monster crowd,” Manteca coach Eric Reis said.
As if Sonora’s monster team isn’t enough to deal with.
The Wildcats (3-0, 5-1) are led by the league’s top returning lineman in left guard/nose guard Nathan Gray, a 6-foot-1, 260-pound force who has even had some touches at fullback.
“The only good news is that he can’t block for himself,” Reis said. “Everything starts and ends with Nate Gray — he is just an animal. I think he’s one of the top linemen in Northern California.”
Sonora’s triple-option offense is directed by quarterback Ryan Emerald (60-for-92, 1,129 yards, 18 TDs, INT), who has a 6-foot-4 target in Alex Kiriluk (35 receptions, 674 yards, 10 TDs). Emerald is also the team’s leading rusher (562 yards, 6 TDs).
Manteca faced a similar offense in Week 2 and struggled, needing a last-second touchdown to beat Tracy, 47-42.
“We did not have a whole lot of success, but hopefully we learned how to defend it,” Reis said. “That type of offense is so unique and it does help to see it at least once.”
East Union won’t see anything fancy out of Oakdale’s wing-t attack, just some old-fashioned, hard-nosed running but with the ability to throw when needed.
Quarterback Spencer Thomas (29-for-47, 491 yards, 6 TDs, INT) is one of five players from a talented sophomore class in the starting lineup. Leading rusher Daniel Linder (487 yards, 6 TDs) is one of many threats out of the backfield.
Hard-hitting DB Vince Thompson and 6-3, 215-pound linebacker A.C. Brown anchor a defensive unit that has given up just eight points per league game this season.
While East Union has been the surprise story of the VOL this season, with a shot to advance to the postseason for the first time since 1992, Coach James says it’s the same ol’ same with Oakdale despite its youth and graduation turnover.
“They’re very well coached, they have a system that they believe in and they know what they’re doing,” he said.
“It’s great to be playing for something in Week 7,” James added. “It’s great to have these challenges. People are saying we have to do the impossible; I don’t see it as impossible, but I know it’s difficult. But that’s what the kids want. They want to show up and give them a battle.”