Placer may get another shot at Manteca if the MaxPreps Sac-Joaquin Section playoff projections released Thursday stand after next week.
Manteca (6-2) currently sits as the second-largest school in Division IV. The Buffaloes is the reigning Division IV champion after overcoming a slow start to beat Placer 50-28 in the 2016 title game.
East Union (6-2) could also slip to Division IV, but MaxPreps has the Lancers in III. Only two schools have lower enrollments than them in this bracket, but reigning D-III champion Oakdale and Christian Brothers can’t go any lower.
Manteca and East Union round out regular-season action next week, and if they beat their next opponents — Sierra and Weston Ranch, respectively — as expected the rivalry showdown will be for the third automatic berth in the Valley Oak League.
Although Placer (7-1) is no slouch in Division IV, where it could be the top seed if it’s able to secure the Pioneer Valley League title, there are currently four teams with 4-4 records. Division III is more daunting with two 7-1 teams — Antelope and Patterson — potentially there to try and unseat Oakdale (7-1).
With five wins apiece, Ripon and Ripon Christian are a win away from seizing at-large berths. Their bracket placements are easier to pin down than in the higher divisions.
Ripon is likely headed to Division V along with Mother Lode League heavyweights Calaveras and Sonora and unbeaten traditional small-school power Colfax. The Indians lost to Sonora 48-33 earlier in the season.
And with one of the smallest enrollments in the section, Ripon Christian is firmly set in the six-team Division VII where it has a real shot to earn its first section title despite three other teams — Big Valley Christian (8-0), Woodland Christian (7-1) and Stone Ridge Christian (8-1) — boasting better records. Ripon Christian owns a 35-6 win over Stone Ridge, and its strength of schedule could land it in a more favorable spot in the bracket.
Seventy-eight teams qualify for the postseason and are separated into seven brackets, with Divisions I-III consisting of 16 teams each, and Divisions IV-VI with eight.
The Division VII bracket was formerly limited to the Central California Athletic Alliance and Sacramento Metropolitan Athletic League, forcing teams with like enrollment figures, such as Ripon Christian, to face stronger opponents for the postseason.