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Manteca, Sierra look to keep it rolling at home
First-year Ripon Christian head coach Trey Ozenbaugh, far left, watches as quarterback Billy Marr unleashes a throw during the Mount Misery Football Camp held at Central Catholic of Modesto back in July. The Knights take on Big Valley Christian in their season opener on Friday. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO

Coming off impressive road wins, the Manteca and Sierra football teams welcome visiting squads led by new head coaches with credentials.

Justin Lowell and Valley Christian of Dublin heads to Manteca’s Guss Schmiedt Field for the first-ever meeting between the two schools this Friday. Meanwhile, the Scott Edwards-led Central Valley Hawks from Ceres will oppose Sierra at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium in a matchup between former Valley Oak League foes. Sierra is 4-0 all-time against the Hawks.

Elsewhere in the Manteca area:

• Ripon looks to bounce back from a crushing defeat to Sierra as it entertains powerful Patterson.

• Lathrop suffered a heartbreaker at West last week and will try and avenge a close 2013 loss to visiting Liberty Ranch.

• Both Weston Ranch and Ripon Christian make their 2014 debuts. Weston Ranch hosts neighboring rival Edison, while Ripon Christian makes the short jaunt to Modesto to square off with Big Valley Christian.

Valley Christian wasn’t originally on Manteca’s schedule. That changed late last spring when the Buffaloes got the invite from Wilcox to play a zero-week game at Levi’s Stadium. To make that work, they had to scratch Central Valley off their non-league schedule (while finding CV a replacement) and seekout a new Week 1 opponent. 

Enter Valley Christian, a school with a fledgling football program that has enjoyed success in its five-plus years. In 2013, the Vikings were North Coast Section Division V runners-up and had five seniors seal commitments on national signing day. 

Valley Christian — 1-0 following its 34-24 victory over Oakland’s Stellar Prep — is under the guidance of its third head coach. Lowell comes from Northgate (Walnut Creek), a team he led to the NCS Division II quarterfinals a year ago and the semifinals in 2012. 

Although Valley Christian graduated 18 seniors from its best team, not all of its talent is gone. Leading the charge is impressive junior WR/DB Jairus Woodson, son of NFL Hall of Famer Rod Woodson.


Hungry Hawks

Central Valley wants to make a statement in its season opener at Sierra after losing its two best players, RB Ja’Quan Garner and QB Kendal Johnson, and head coach Jason McCloskey. The Hawks, making their first postseason appearance, put a scare into eventual Sac-Joaquin Section Division III champion Manteca in the opening round last year, falling short 69-55 in one of the wildest games of the season.

The well-traveled Edwards was offensive coordinator for the University of Mary in North Dakota last year. Prior to that, he was head coach at Bret Harte High (2006-12) with stints as an assistant for Sacramento City College, Northern State University, American River College and Mendocino College. 

Edwards has a tough first test in Sierra, which dismantled 2013 SJS Division IV semifinalist Ripon 54-7 in impressive fashion. Running back Mark Paule had a big breakthrough performance, tying a program record with seven touchdowns.


Gut-check for Ripon

The Indians’ daunting non-league schedule doesn’t get any easier after decisively losing what was expected to be a competitive game.

Next is Western Athletic Conference favorite Patterson (1-0), which held off fellow Trans-Valley League power Escalon, 47-34 last week. Patterson QB Damien Paulo (2,011 yards, 29 TDs, 7 INTs in 2013) and WAC Defensive Player of the Year Ruben Rosas are back to spearhead a team loaded with talent. The Tigers have qualified for the playoffs nine straight years.


Getting over the hump

Last year’s heartbreaking 21-12 loss to Liberty Ranch was a tone-setter for Lathrop, which followed with other tough-to-swallow setbacks en route to a 1-9 season. Liberty Ranch, meanwhile, finished 6-5 and made the playoffs.

Liberty graduated its top two playmakers from 2013, Willie Holman and Trevon Hindley, but expectations are higher for second-year head coach Darrin Higgins and his senior-heavy roster.

Some of the same issues that plagued Lathrop a season ago came back to haunt it again last Friday at West (Tracy). The Spartans had a chance to win it in the final seconds, but a 96-yard pick-six from Marcel Darcy sealed the 20-7 victory for West.


Turf war

The closest school to Weston Ranch is South Stockton neighbor Edison. Surprisingly, the two had never previously met on the football field. That changes Friday when Edison makes the 4.6-mile trek.

While the Cougars begin their season, Edison (0-1) already has a game under its belt. The Vikings gave up 399 yards of offense in a 36-14 loss to Del Campo (Fair Oaks). Devin King, a 6-foot-2 receiver, showed well for Edison, catching four passes for 132 yards and a touchdown.

Edison hopes to return to the SJS Division I playoffs after doing so in 2013 with a 7-4 record.


Familiar foe

Ripon Christian faces Big Valley Christian for a fifth straight year in nonleague action. The Knights own a 5-1 series lead, and their wins were all blowouts and shutouts.

They’ll look to continue their dominance over the Lions, with third-year QB Billy Marr and his corps of experienced receivers leading an offense that previously starred record-breaking RB Andrew Brown. Big Valley’s top player is 6-7, 220-pound junior TE/DL Daniel Giannosa. Sophomores Vito Merritt and Corbin Simon will be featured in the I-back offense.