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Manteca area squads all set to kick off league
Cota eyes Sierras anticipated rematch with Oakdale
Sierra standout running back Anthony Cota tries to evade Tracy High defenders during a zero-week nonleague contest on Aug. 24. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Lathrop (0-3) at East Union (0-3): The Manteca area’s remaining winless squads are coming off loaded nonleague schedules and desperate for a victory. EU is 3-0 in this fledgling series (23-15, EU).

Manteca (1-2) at Kimball (1-2): Smarting from successive losses, the Buffs now face a dangerous Kimball squad that returns its standout QB after he missed the Jags’ previous contests (42-37, Manteca).

Oakdale (2-1) at Sierra (3-0): Oakdale was tested only by the T’Wolves in league last year, but the scare lasted a quarter as RB Cota went down with a broken forearm. He’s back and on a roll (28-24, Oakdale).

Sonora (1-2) at Weston Ranch (2-1): The Cougars nearly stunned Sonora on the road last year, but they may not have the offensive firepower to keep pace this time around (28-7, Sonora).

Ripon (4-0) at Escalon (3-1): Experienced and talented, this may be the year that the Indians win a TVL title. The first of many challenges comes from the reloaded, reigning champ (21-17, Ripon).

Mariposa (0-3) at Ripon Christian (2-1): RC can make a big statement, but don’t be fooled by Mariposa’s record — it played against three nonleague teams that are a combined 10-1 (26-21, RC).

Last week: 5-0 (18-2 overall).

Anthony Cota and the rest of the Timberwolves from Sierra High have unfinished business to attend to on a Friday night jam-packed with marquee matchups.

Oakdale (2-1) visits Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium this Friday for a rematch of last year’s quarter-long doozy.

Cota helped Sierra stake a 14-10 first quarter lead after he had burned the Mustangs for 109 yards on just nine carries. Early in the second, Cota went down with a broken left forearm that threatened to sideline him for the rest of the season while the Timberwolves drove into Oakdale territory.

The drive stalled, and a field goal attempt missed. The game changed in a hurry, as the Mustangs stampeded their way to 35 unanswered points and a resounding 45-14 victory.

That was the closest thing to a loss Oakdale had experienced in league all season.

“I play football, this is what I do,” Cota said. “Just to have it taken away like that and there was nothing I could do about it, it was terrible. Then we lost on top of that.”

Sierra’s offense didn’t completely sputter out after his early exit. The T’Wolves were able to march downfield with regularity, but they came  up empty handed because of turnovers.

“We moved the ball well against them we just couldn’t put the ball in the end zone,” Sierra coach Jeff Harbison said. “That’s something that Anthony brings, he has the strength and the speed to finish.”

Cota returned in time for Sierra’s regular-season finale against Weston Ranch. Both teams had four wins, and there was a possibility of the winner sneaking into the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. The Timberwolves prevailed 49-19 behind Cota’s 171 yards and four touchdowns.

Sierra ended up on the outside looking in. That was Cota’s cue to go back to work.

“The offseason started right when the football season ended,” he said. “I started working out, rehabbing my arm as much as possible and now my arm is 100 percent.”

So far, so good.

Sierra capped its nonleague run with a 3-0 record led by Cota’s 537 yards (8.7 per carry) and 12 scores. His seven TD scampers in a 52-6 Week-2 blowout of Grace Davis is a new single-season school record.

“I don’t have any big expectations of myself, I just keep it simple and have two goals: don’t fumble, and don’t let one guy bring me down.

“Other than that I know the team will get the job done. I definitely trust my teammates, it’s not just me. Everybody is working just as hard as me.”

Sierra, like all others in the VOL, will definitely have its work cut out against Oakdale, the VOL’s two-time defending champion which has SJS title aspirations after reaching the last two Division III playoff finals. The Mustangs’ lone loss in 2011 came against CIF State Bowl qualifier Del Oro in the title round.

Oakdale (2-1) returns five third-year varsity starters: QB Spencer Thomas, fleet-footed wingback Marcus Northcutt, linebacker Bastian Jimenez and twins Hondo and Miko Arpoika who anchor a stout defense.

Oakdale’s only loss came against Southern California juggernaut Oceanside, 34-14.

“Not only is this the first league game, but it’s against Oakdale — everybody wants to beat Oakdale,” Cota said. “They’re always picked to win. We think we’re better than them, we just have to go out and prove it against a team that everybody thinks is the best.”

Lathrop at East Union

Both squads trudged through imposing nonleague schedules that have them winless for the VOL opener. One of those teams will get over the hump Friday.

East Union hasn’t won since Sept. 23 of last year — at Lathrop. The Lancers lead the series 3-0.

Both teams had trouble scoring points in their first three contests, but some of that had to do with the quality of opposition.

East Union has lost by an average margin of 32.3 points, though the 67-13 loss to mighty St. Mary’s skews that number some. The Lancers’ spread offense has had its moments with hard-running RB Mark Aguilar providing a spark.

The Spartans, meanwhile, are still looking to find a groove on offense after being held to just 16 total points over their first three games.

Manteca at Kimball

The Jaguars from Tracy are 2-12 through their first two seasons in the VOL. Now, they have the talent and experience to do some damage.

Kimball returns eight third-year varsity players who started on both offense and defense while part of a first-year squad in 2010.

Like Kimball, Manteca can ill afford a loss Friday — both are 1-2, and there are some heavy hitters left to play in league. The Buffaloes struggled to stop the run in their Week-2 loss to Los Banos and couldn’t slow down Stagg’s dynamic passing attack in a Week-3 defeat.

If talented QB Zack Johnson — one of a handful of Jaguar starters who will make their season debut Friday — shakes off the rust early, Manteca could be in for another shootout. The Buffs will look to avoid its first three-game losing streak since dropping four in a row in October of 2003.

Sonora at Weston Ranch

The Wildcats (1-2) staved off an upset last year when they edged Weston Ranch 34-29 at home. They’re hoping that a stronger nonleague schedule — which includes single-digit losses to Division-I Turlock and North Section power Paradise, and a 35-26 win over Calaveras — has them better prepared for the VOL grind.

Weston Ranch (2-1) enters league play with a winning record for the first time since 2007, but Sonora will be the toughest team the Cougars have faced so far. Sonora boasts a punishing ground attack led by 6-foot, 220-pound Brandon Camara.

Ripon at Escalon

Escalon (3-1) has long dominated this rivalry series and the rest of the Trans-Valley League. Could this be the year of the Indians (4-0)?

Ripon is firing on all cylinders coming off four straight blowout victories, but Escalon played the tougher nonleague schedule having been edged out by Los Banos 34-32 and beaten Patterson, 24-13.

They do share a common opponent: Linden. Ripon was far more dominant in its 47-7 Week-1 win with against the Lions. Last week, Escalon needed 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to fully take command in a 34-10 victory.

Escalon graduated an ultra-talented senior class last year, but this is still Escalon, and Ripon will need to be on top of its game. Nathan Chunn (517 yards, 7 TDs) is the bell cow of its efficient Wing-T offense, and QB Phillip Kimble (489 yards, 3 TDs, INT) keeps defenses honest.

Mariposa at Ripon Christian

Ripon Christian (2-1) can establish itself as a factor in the Southern League title chase with a win Friday.

Mariposa may be winless, but it is a perennial contender in the conference. The Grizzlies three losses were to teams (Summerville, Orestimba, Livingston) with a combined 10-1 record.

Mariposa returns four starting offensive linemen and Liam Fieldsted (233 yards, 2 TDs), the team’s leading rusher from a year ago. Quarterback Bodie Vegely a big target in 6-foot-5, 210-pound tight end Jason Scherf.