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Manteca, RC get No. 1 seeds for SJS playoffs
East Union, Ripon open with home games
Manteca-East Union football
Manteca’s Blake Nichelson breaks away from East Union’s Ivan Alvarez (17) and Dylan Lee (1) in a Valley Oak League game. - photo by Wayne Thallander

As anticipated, Manteca and Ripon Christian were awarded No. 1 seeds in their respective brackets, while strength of schedules helped East Union and Ripon get home games for the opening round of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.

The Section released brackets for its seven divisions on Sunday.

The four Manteca-area schools are among 80 to advance. Teams are placed in enrollment and competitive-based divisions. Divisions I-VI are 12-team brackets with four teams getting byes, and Division VII is an eight-team bracket.

All co- and outright champions automatically qualify, and the rest of the pool is filled by teams with at least four wins and the highest Calpreps/MaxPreps computer ratings.

Lathrop (6-4) found itself on the outside looking in for a second straight season. Close losses to Los Banos and Pacheco kept the Spartans from claiming at least a share of the Western Athletic Conference title. An at-large berth was within reach, but a tri-championship between Foothill, Natomas and Johnson in the Greater Sacramento League knocked them out of the running. Johnson forced the three-way share with a 48-46 Week 10 win over Natomas.

Manteca (8-1) got the nod over No. 2 Del Oro (8-2) and No. 3 Downey (10-0) for the top seed in the loaded Division II field. Del Oro may have had enough of a ratings spike to overtake the Buffaloes with a Week 10 win, but the Golden Eagles dropped a 35-21 decision to Oak Ridge in the Sierra Foothill League finale.

Although Calpreps ratings help determine seedings, the Section’s playoff committee has the ultimate say on team placement. Downey earned consideration for the No. 1 seed because of its perfect regular season and league championship, but Valley Oak League runner-up Manteca’s rating and strength of schedule overruled the possibility.

Manteca’s 42.3 rating ranks the Buffaloes at No. 3 overall in the SJS behind Division I Nos. 1-2 seeds Folsom and St. Mary’s, while Downey is ninth with a 33.4.

Manteca awaits the winner of the Nos. 8-9 matchup between Monticello Empires League champion Vacaville (7-3) and Lodi (7-3) on Nov. 11. The Buffaloes are in Division II for the first time since winning the Division II title back in 2001 under coach Joe Miller. They’ve been forced up to Division II by the “continued success” rule after claiming three out of the last four Division III crowns. Is tied for the fifth most SJS championships with eight.

Rival East Union received the No. 6 seed in Division IV and welcomes No. 11 Nevada Union of Grass Valley on Friday in a battle of 4-6 teams. The Lancers closed their regular season with a heartbreaking 36-30 loss at Kimball, which is No. 4 in the bracket and has a first-round bye. Five of the six VOL teams are in the postseason.

Three of EU’s losses were to Manteca, Central Catholic and Downey — top-10 teams in the SJS, according to Calpreps. A win on Friday sets the Lancers up with a quarterfinal matchup at West Park (8-1), a second-year varsity program out of Roseville.

Ripon also gets a home game despite a 4-6 record. Seeded eighth in Division V, the Indians take on No. 8 Rosemont (7-3) of Sacramento. Ripon finished fourth in the Trans-Valley League, long hailed as the top small-school league in the state. The Indians nearly came back to upset runner-up Hughson last week in a 21-19 defeat. The Ripon-Rosemont winner heads to No. 1 Sutter next week.

Southern Athletic League runner-up Ripon Christian (8-2) was favored to garner the top seed in Division VII. No matter their placement, the Knights were always going to be on the road for this postseason.

Ripon Christian, Stone Ridge Christian and Capital Christian were all banned from the playoffs last year because of their involvement with club football during COVID-19 lockdown in the spring of 2021. The three schools regained eligibility for postseason play, under the condition that they not host playoff games.

That means RC travels to No. 8 Rio Vista (6-4) on Nov. 11. Coincidentally, the Knights are faced with a potential semifinal showdown with No. 4 Stone Ridge Christian. Since neither team can host, the Section would choose a neutral site for that game.

The Section finals will take place Nov. 25-26 at Sacramento City College and St. Mary’s High.