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Undefeated Manteca begins VOL title defense at Sierra
Bulletin sports fall 2021
Head coach Mark Varnum, chats with quarterback Garrison Reis and the rest of the Manteca offense during their Week 1 win against Patterson on Aug. 27. - photo by Wayne Thallander


Friday’s games

East Union at Oakdale

Manteca at Sierra

Weston Ranch at Kimball

Ceres at Lathrop

Ripon at Modesto Christian

Ripon Christian at Riverbank

First-year East Union coach Mike Kuhnlenz urged his team to celebrate their 3-1 start to the season last Friday after thrashing Atwater 54-7 at Dino Cunial Field.

He also reminded them of what’s coming next.

This week, the real fun begins for the seven Manteca-area teams across four different leagues. East Union kicks off the rugged Valley Oak League schedule this Friday at Oakdale. Kuhnlenz likes the progress the Lancers have made in adjusting to new offensive and defensive schemes and is thrilled to be sitting on a winning record, but …

“The VOL is the VOL,” Kuhnlenz said on Friday, looking ahead to a VOL schedule that features four teams with perfect records and wins over quality opposition. Reigning tri-champions Manteca (4-0), Central Catholic (3-0) and Oakdale (3-0) are again early favorites, but Kimball (3-0) continues to impress under new coach LaTef Grim and third-year quarterback Nicholas Coronado. All four are top-10 teams in the Sac-Joaquin Section, according to MaxPreps computer rankings — Central Catholic is at No. 5, Manteca at 6, Kimball at 8 and Oakdale at 10.

Manteca opens at Sierra (0-4), Kimball hosts Weston Ranch (1-3) and Central Catholic takes on Bay Area power Bellarmine Prep at San Jose City College during its league bye.

There is also a three-way title defense in the Trans-Valley League, home of two 2019 state champions. Ripon (2-2), the California Interscholastic Federation Division IV-AA titlist, starts out at Modesto Christian (0-2). Meanwhile, Division IV-A champ Escalon is tested by Hughson (4-0) out the gate while coming off a stunning one-sided loss to Kimball. Upstart Livingston (3-1) has an opportunity to prove its for real at Hilmar (4-0), which was part of the TVL title split with Ripon and Escalon two years ago.

Riverbank (0-2), headed by Manteca alumnus and former Lathrop coach Joe Pirillo, is filling its originally-scheduled Week 4 bye with a game against Ripon Christian (2-1). More on that later.

Both Lathrop and Ripon Christian are coming off their bye weeks. The latter is the two-time defending champion of the Southern Athletic League. The Knights’ league-opening opponent, Denair (0-2), has had to back out because of COVID-19 protocols. Waterford (3-0) and Orestimba (2-1) look to be the chief threats to RC’s throne.

In the Western Athletic Conference, 3-0 Grace Davis has emerged as the big favorite following three blowout wins. Many of the contenders from 2019, including champion Beyer (0-3), Johansen (1-3) and Los Banos (0-3), are rebuilding. That has opened the door for the likes of Lathrop and Ceres, two 2-1 teams that face off this Friday.

Here’s a closer look at Week 4 matchups for area teams:


Manteca at Sierra: The 27th meeting between these intra-city rivals will take place on Sierra’s homecoming night.

The winless Timberwolves are hoping they can build off their promising second-half effort at Stagg. They ultimately came up short 49-35 but scored 21 points in the fourth quarter while sophomore Anthony Grady exploded for 270 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries. Sierra was held to just eight points in previous three contests.

Meanwhile, the Buffaloes boast the only perfect record in the Manteca area. They’ve averaged 45 points per game while holding four traditionally-potent spread offenses to 21.25. They registered a 44-36 road win against Turlock last week while not at full strength.

Manteca has won eight straight against the Timberwolves and leads the all-time series, 20-6.


Bulletin sports fall 2021
East Union head coach Mike Kuhnlenz gets quarterback Luke Weaver prepared before their game against Atwater last Friday. - photo by Wayne Thallander
East Union at Oakdale: The Lancers have closed the gap some in what has been a lopsided series with Oakdale, but is this the year they finally get over the hump?

East Union has lost 27 straight against the VOL heavyweight after its 35-27 loss to the Mustangs over the spring. Much has changed since, as the Lancers’ coaching staff underwent a complete makeover with the hiring of Mike Kuhnlenz. His spread offense has improved every week with talented QB Luke Weaver at the epicenter.

Oakdale counters with its Wing-T led by third-year QB Jackson Holt, a three-star prospect, according to 247sports. The Mustangs waxed Archbishop Mitty 56-13 at The Corral last week. Mitty, a renown parochial school out of San Jose, is part of the highly-competitive West Catholic Athletic League. Yahir Ayala burned the Monarchs for six touchdowns.

Oakdale is celebrating its homecoming Friday.


Weston Ranch at Kimball: The Ranch let winnable games slip through its fingers in the fourth quarter the past two weeks. It only gets tougher from here, starting with an explosive Kimball team that just obliterated state champion Escalon, 54-14.

Coronado dazzled for the Jaguars, completing 33 of 41 passes for a whopping 516 yards and five touchdowns. He is the top passer in the Section — EU’s Weaver is No. 2, according to MaxPreps — with 1,222 yards, 13 touchdowns and three interceptions.

Many of Coronado’s top targets from the spring also return, including seniors Mason Rivera (24 receptions, 444 yards, five TDs) and Willie Clifton (18-429-5). Kimball appears poised to make the SJS playoffs for the second time in the school’s short history.


Ceres at Lathrop: It’s the biggest matchup in the opening week of the WAC, one that could have championship implications down the road.

Ceres may have its best team since 2004 when the Bulldogs last made the playoffs. Lathrop has advanced to the postseason just once (2015) in its 12-year varsity existence.

Ceres has a balanced attack led by second-year juniors Landyn Hudson (337 passing yards, five TDs) and Tarrell Lee-Gill (359 rushing yards, seven TDs).  The Bulldogs also have two 6-foot-3 receivers in senior Verlis Smith (229 yards, four TDs) and LeBron Stallworth (89 yards, TD). They have blowout wins over hapless West and Johansen, and their loss is to in-town rival Central Valley, 20-18.

Lathrop is 0-2 all-time against Ceres, so far. The Spartans are well rested off their bye week that followed back-to-back wins over Mt. Diablo and rival Weston Ranch.

Bulletin sports fall 2021
Ripon head coach Chris Musseman gets the offense organized for drills during a preseason practice. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin


Ripon at Modesto Christian: The Indians have begun to regain some of their championship swagger from 2019 and just in time for TVL play. They posted convincing wins over Center and Calaveras the past two weeks after dropping five in a row going back to the shortened spring season.

There’s an opportunity for Ripon to continue its roll against rebuilding Modesto Christian (0-2). The Crusaders had two games get cancelled in successive weeks and were shut out by Delta 40-0 on the other side of that extended break.

Friday’s game at Roy Blakeley Field features two towering receivers who double as defensive linemen. At 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, Everett Hunter stars for Modesto Christian, while Ripon has 6-7, 230-pound Bronson Burrow — he transferred from MC after his freshman year. The Crusaders have another electric weapon in 6-3 Elmo Warston, their leading rusher and a pass-catching threat.


Ripon Christian at Riverbank: These programs get to reunite because of cancellations by their opponents. It’s already the second time this season Ripon Christian has had to seek a new opponent midweek.

The Knights are former TVL members who hadn’t played Riverbank since 2009. They have a 3-1 all-time advantage over Riverbank. Finding a replacement was crucial for Ripon Christian as it aims to stay sharp for important SAL games ahead. Orestimba visits next week.

For the Bruins, this is their last tune-up for the rigors of the TVL. Their last victory came on Aug. 24, 2018, 14-3 over Delta, and they’ve dropped 24 straight since.

Alex Nisperos is the workhorse for Riverbank’s run-heavy attack. He is also the Bruins’ top defensive player as a strong safety.