East Union greatly improved its chances to qualify for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs Friday night at Dino Cunial Field after fending off visiting Kimball, 28-6.
The Lancers (3-2, 6-2 overall) notched their coveted sixth win with two games to go, and although it’s no lock to get them in the might of the Valley Oak League — the section looks at strength of schedule (or opponents’ wins) as a tiebreaker — is a boost for its bubble teams.
They could still earn an automatic berth with a top-three finish in league, but that would require big-time upsets over Central Catholic and Manteca — two of the top 25 teams in Northern California, according to MaxPreps rankings — in the final two weeks of the regular season.
East Union is looking to make its third playoff appearance in the last 25 years (1992, 2010).
“This season’s not over,” East Union wide receiver/cornerback Jake Harries said. “Twenty-four hour rule — enjoy this now and back to business on Monday.”
East Union handled business against a dangerous Kimball squad (0-5, 1-7) in search of its first league win of the season. It started with stopping the Jaguars’ punishing running attack anchored by 6-foot-3, 220-pound running back Ryan Rivera, who was held to a season-low 72 yards on 16 carries. Kimball overall was limited to 130 yards of offense after East Union yielded 445 rushing in a 42-6 setback to Oakdale last week.
“From the start we knew (Rivera) was going to be the big threat this week, so our No. 1 job was to shut him down,” East Union linebacker Joseph Reynaga said. “As a team we did our job and did what we had to do.”
The Lancers piled up 399 yards of offense including 282 on the ground. They could have had more, but quarterback Jack Weaver (minus 42 yards rushing) was sacked eight times. Mason James (three rushes, 84 yards), Isaiah Sholund (11 rushes 82 yards), Angel Sena (seven rushes, 81 yards) and Patrick Sholund (seven rushes, 69 yards) spearheaded the run game.
“Our running game opens it up for us receivers to make easy catches,” Harries said. “The run sets us up for that.”
East Union scored on the second play from scrimmage with James rambling from 75 yards out.
The Lancers appeared to be in trouble on their next drive when Weaver was sacked by Joseph Parungao for a 17-yard loss and penalized for intentional grounding. The play pinned East Union on its own 1-yard line and forced it to punt, but a roughing-the-kicker infraction gave the Lancers new life.
They took full advantage, eating up 8 minutes, 15 seconds on a 17-play drive capped by Weaver’s 8-yard toss to Harries for a 13-0 lead late in the opening quarter.
“Huge momentum swing,” Harries said of the 15-yard penalty. “We got a little lucky there but we executed great the rest of the drive.”
Harries (three receptions, 42 yards) scored again in the second quarter on a perfect 22-yard pass from Weaver and picked off a pass in the third.
Weaver finished 5 of 9 for 117 yards and three touchdowns, the last of which was the dagger. Facing a fourth-and-19 in the third quarter, Weaver hit Matthew Pilkay in stride for a 45-yard score.
“We made some plays when we needed it,” East Union coach Willie Herrera said. “On fourth down it was a gutsy call and they delivered.
“We still have to clean up a lot of things and get ready for some big dogs the next two weeks.”