LATHROP — Diego Chavez has been part of more wins in one season than his older brothers in three combined.
Diego, the senior quarterback for Lathrop’s football team, said he shares each victory with his siblings and the rest of the community.
It’s definitely a special time to be a Spartan. For the first time in school history, Lathrop (6-4) is competing in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs and is seeded No. 1 in the Division IV bracket. Eighth-seeded Los Banos (6-4) visits Bennie Gatto Field on Friday.
“It’s very surreal actually getting to play in Week 11 and being in the playoffs,” Diego Chavez said. “We’re the talk of the town for once instead of being somebody else’s doormat. It’s a real good feeling at the moment.”
One he is glad to relish with his brothers. Pablo is the program’s first-ever varsity quarterback. The Spartans went 0-9 without seniors in 2009 and won just two games in each of the next two years. Ricardo Chavez was a receiver and defensive back on the 2010 and 11 teams, but both he and Pablo are still there on Friday nights rooting on their alma mater.
“They come to every single one of my games and support me in everything I do,” Diego said. “It’s nice to have my brothers there for me.”
There’s a buzz on campus created by Diego and his extended family on the football field. The last time it happened was in 2013 when the school’s boys basketball team won its first postseason contest and brought a raucous crowd to Riverbank for the second round.
“Everyone wants it, not just us,” running back/linebacker Jacob Devita said. “And we’re going to do whatever it takes to get it. It’s awesome. Ever since I started here we’ve been trash, so it’s been a blessing for us to get to this point. We have a chance to really do something special.”
A chip remains on the shoulders of these Spartans, who finished fourth in the ultra-competitive Valley Oak League. With undefeated Placer moving up to Division III and 9-1 Sonora going to Division V, the Division IV race appears to be wide open with only one league champion — fourth-seeded Liberty Ranch (6-4), which lost to Lathrop 20-14 in Week 1 — and one team, Dixon (8-2), boasting more than seven wins.
“We might have been rewarded (the top seed) because of our tough schedule, but we still have a lot of doubters in the area that don’t think we’re deserving of it,” first-year Lathrop coach Joe Pirillo said. “We still have a lot to prove.”
The rest of the Division IV field consists of teams with a deeper tradition. Los Banos, which took fourth in the Western Athletic Conference, is 13-12 in 14 postseason appearances and won Division II titles in 1988 and 91.
Pirillo said his team isn’t taking its first-round opponent lightly. The Tigers have lost three of their last four contests, including a surprising a 41-30 loss to in-town rival Pacheco in Week 10.He’s impressed by two-way standouts Adam Herrera (QB/DB), David Walker (WR/DB) and Daniel Fernandez (FB/MLB), who anchor the spread offense. Herrera has both thrown and rushed for 1,000 yards.
“They’re an extremely tough opponent,” Pirillo said. “It’s a tough first-round draw, but we’re excited we get to play another game.”
It’s one of five playoff games hosted locally Friday. Here’s a closer look at the rest:
It’s a rocky road ahead in the brutal Division III bracket for No. 6 Manteca (8-2). It begins with a familiar foe in No. 11 Central Valley (7-3) of Ceres, which set a single-season record in wins. Central Valley made its first postseason appearance in 2013 and lost to the Buffaloes in a wild 69-55 finish in the opening round. Manteca went on to capture its fourth section championship. They share common opponents in Sierra (beat CV 23-13 but lost to Manteca, 43-8) and Enochs (lost to Manteca 42-6 and CV 42-21). First-year coach Scott Edwards has the Hawks back in the playoffs after they took second in the WAC. They’re led by a pair running backs: Moises Ghiroso (1,419 yards rushing, 396 receiving, 23 touchdowns) and Jamarea Lumpkin (952 rushing yards, 13 TDs). Lumpkin is the younger brother of 2013 star RB Ja’Quan Garner. The Division III bracket includes seven league champions and four 10-0 teams.
Back to Division IV, No. 3 Sierra (5-5) welcomes No. 6 Union Mine (7-3) in what could be a high-scoring affair between spread offenses. Union Mine is the Sierra Valley Conference runner-up behind Liberty Ranch. Aside from a 35-21 loss to Liberty Ranch, the Diamondbacks were also defeated by Calaveras (7-3), the second seed in this bracket, 28-21 in a nonleague matchup. They lost to Calaveras in the semifinals by the same score a year ago and made the Division II championship game in 2006. Their balanced spread attack is spearheaded by Brody Pearman (1,503 yards, nine touchdowns; 603 yards rushing, 13 TDs) and Austin Rigsby (1,246 yards, 16 TDs). A win for Sierra would send it to its second-ever semifinal.
Ripon (6-4) is looking to bounce back from its 19-16 loss at Hughson, which cost it an outright claim to the Trans-Valley League title. The Indians are the No. 3 seed in Division V and take on Bear River (7-3) in an interesting first-round pairing. The last time these two teams met was in the 1994 Division III semifinals won by the Bruins, 14-13. Bear River is the defending Division V champion and started the season 7-0, but injuries have contributed to their current three-game losing streak.
Ripon Christian (8-2) is no stranger to its first-round counterpart in Division VI. The fourth-seeded Knights take on No. 5 Golden Sierra (7-3) for a second straight year. Last year they travelled to Garden Valley and stifled the Grizzlies’ Cox box offense in a 34-13 upset.