East Union’s football program took a hit in 2003 when Manteca Unified opened Weston Ranch, its fourth comprehensive high school, in Stockton.
Seth Davis was then a sophomore at Manteca High, while Willie Herrera entered his junior year at Eastern Oregon.
Tonight, they square off for the first time as opposing head coaches, with Davis nearing the end of his inaugural campaign at Weston Ranch and Herrera close to completing his third for East Union.
Both East Union and Weston Ranch have had little success after the split. In 2002, EU’s freshman team, led by twins Terjean and Torijean Saffold, went 9-1 and earned the Valley Oak League championship. The Lancers haven’t won a title since — at any level — and qualified for the playoffs once (2010).
The Saffolds went on to help Weston Ranch earn a tri-championship and reach the semifinal round of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs as seniors. The Cougars haven’t returned to the postseason since.
East Union and Weston Ranch had reason to believe that 2013 would be the start of a turnaround.
The Lancers impressed in camp and preseason scrimmages. Their new-look wing offense appeared to suit the strengths of the team, and the defense looked even more promising.
Weston Ranch was reinvigorated by a new coaching staff while a stable of young skill athletes graduated to the varsity ranks after going 7-3 at the sophomore level.
Things were looking up in the late summer.
Now? They kick off tonight’s Week 9 contest with three wins between them.
“We’re young,” Davis said. “I think the physical play of the VOL kind of opened some of our kids’ eyes. Yeah, we had high hopes when we were doing 7-on-7s and we liked how we handled ourselves without contact.
“We started out playing a grueling preseason schedule, and to play these physical teams like Oakdale, Sonora, Manteca and Kimball took a little bit out of us.”
Both teams have sustained injuries to key players, leading to some of their struggles.
East Union (0-5 VOL, 1-7 overall) exploded for 63 points in a Week 1 blowout of Orestimba. The run-heavy wing attack scored just 57 points in its next six games with the Lancers’ top two rushers, Victor Lopez and Taariq Davis, missing time with injuries.
Young Weston Ranch, meanwhile, has gotten younger. Last week, the Cougars (1-4, 2-6) started four sophomores and three seniors against first-place Manteca — and were drubbed, 79-8.
Just another learning experience for Weston Ranch. Things are looking up with so many sophomores and juniors returning next season. East Union also has much to look forward to, with its sophomore and freshman squads competing well with VOL heavyweights this season.
“We are not giving up on this season, we still have two games left in our schedule,” Davis said. “But I can already tell our younger (players) are excited for next year. We, the coaching staff, will actually have a complete offseason with these boys. Everyone is chomping at the bit to build on what we have started this year.”
Elsewhere in Week 9:
•Lathrop (1-4 VOL, 1-7 overall) visits The Corral to face a motivated Oakdale team (3-2, 4-4) that is coming off a surprising 35-14 loss to Kimball.
•Ripon (4-1 Trans-Valley League, 8-1 overall) caps its regular season early tonight as Orestimba (1-3, 1-7) invades Stouffer Field. The Indians will then use the Week-10 bye to prepare for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
• Ripon Christian (5-0, 7-1) is guarding against a letdown at Gustine (3-2, 4-4) with the outright Southern League championship still at stake. Up next: undefeated Le Grand for the title.