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Home cookin served for EU starting tonight
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Tonight’s games
G. Davis at East Union
Manteca at C. Valley**
Sierra at Tracy
Bret Harte at Ripon

*Kickoffs scheduled for 7:15 p.m.
**Hosted at Ceres High

East Union won’t be straying far from home for the next month.

That is actually the case for the entire regular season. Schedule makers were kind to the Lancers, who host their first four games of 2013 starting with tonight’s clash with Grace Davis of Modesto.

Also tonight, Manteca heads to Ceres High to square off with Central Valley, Sierra visits Tracy to play in the sparkling new Wayne Schneider Stadium and Ripon plays host to Bret Harte at Stouffer Field where renovations are ongoing.

East Union’s first away game is a quick jaunt to Tracy, where Kimball awaits on Oct. 4. They will end up travelling no more than 50 miles for road contests, with future games at Lathrop, Weston Ranch and Manteca.

East Union coach Willie Herrera isn’t thinking that far down the road — pun intended — quite yet, but he is thinking big. Herrera hopes that the home cookin’ early on helps build momentum for the team’s Valley Oak League opener with defending champion Oakdale.

“It’s absolutely huge,” Herrera said. “As far as the student body goes, it’s going to be nice to have it behind us. Last year we started off 0-3 before our first home game, and there was not a whole lot of excitement at the school to see the football team.

“You have to understand, these kids are 15-17 years old. They start hearing things from their peers and it gets to them. This year we can generate a better attitude from the student body. We’re playing with a new offense and a new defense, so to have these home games early it’s going to really benefit us this year.”

The schedule is set up nicely for East Union, a team that has totaled two wins since last making the playoffs in 2010. That year, the Lancers were undefeated going into league. They hadn’t done that since 1993.

They have a better chance at going 3-0 this year than last, though it won’t be easy. East Union kicked off 2012 with a discouraging 67-13 loss at St. Mary’s of Stockton, the powerhouse where Herrera prepped.

“I have a good relationship with (St. Mary’s) Coach (Tony) Franks,” Herrera said. “We talked immediately after the game, he was honest with me and I agreed with what he had to say. I was hoping for a better outing and thought we could give St. Mary’s a good push, and obviously that didn’t happen. It was a tough loss, but (St. Mary’s caliber of play) was something I wanted our program to witness firsthand.”

So out went St. Mary’s, and Grace Davis came knocking. Herrera said Davis coach Chris Cloward contacted him to set up a zero-week meeting. It’s a good fit for both teams. The Spartans have also struggled in recent years, finishing 2-8 last season while missing the playoffs for a third straight.

After impressive showings in a full-contact camp over the summer and last week’s jamboree in Ceres, the Lancers are confident heading into what should be a winnable game for them. It doesn’t get easier two small-school playoff hopefuls in Orestimba and Modesto Christian coming up.

Manteca at Central Valley

The Hawks of Central Valley are hoping to make their first postseason appearance under second-year coach Jason McCloskey.

Third-year running back Ja’Quan Gardner (3,547 yards, 40 TDs in two years) is one big reason expectations are high. Athletic QB Kendel Johnson looks to break out as a senior after playing second fiddle to four-year starter Abraham Navarro. Linebacker Ben Anitelea (5-10, 215) leads the defense.

Bret Harte at Ripon

Ripon won last year’s showdown decisively, albeit sloppily, 45-0.

The Bullfrogs aim to put forth a better showing tonight and beyond in Jon Byrnes’ inaugural campaign as head coach. He is looking to end Bret Harte’s slide of losing seasons that date back to 2000.

Jared Taylor, a 6-1, 275-pound fullback is back for a third season to anchor a stout line. Logan Lowe was an offensive contributor as a sophomore fullback but led the team defensively with 125 tackles.