AT A GLANCE
Manteca vs. Sonora
WHERE: Guss Schmeidt Field
KICKOFF: 7:15 p.m.
Will he or won't he play?
That's the burning question surrounding Manteca High's football team these days.
Quarterback Alex Martinez missed last Friday's contest at Sierra with an injured thumb, and after the game coach Eric Reis didn't rule him out for the Buffaloes' next big showdown: a homecoming date with Sonora
Friday's Week-7 matchup at Guss Schmiedt Field is the first of three involving the Valley Oak League's traditional "big three." In Week 9, the Buffaloes (3-0, 6-0 overall) head to Oakdale in a possible battle between unbeaten teams, and in Week 10 Sonora (3-0, 5-1) hosts Oakdale.
Backup QB Ryan Fox has performed admirably since Martinez injured his thumb late in the second quarter of Manteca's Week-5 contest at Weston Ranch.
Fox hasn't been asked to do much, but he has made the most of the few opportunities over the last six quarters, completing four of 10 passes for 67 yards and two touchdowns vs. zero interceptions over that stretch. He also proved to be a threat as a runner, racking up 52 yards and a touchdown on 10 rushes.
Manteca got away with Martinez - who is 51 of 75 for 817 yards, six scores and no picks - being out last week by punishing Sierra with a relentless ground attack.
Sonora, though, has had trouble stopping the pass.
Sonora's lone loss is also the lone win for Division-I Modesto, which prevailed 34-33 in a nonleague affair behind 259 passing yards from Iann Miller.
And in its VOL opener at home, Sonora was down by 9 late in the third quarter to upset-minded Weston Ranch. The Wildcats snuck away victorious, 34-29, but Weston Ranch QB James Simerly had thrown for 272 yards and three touchdowns.
But what they do well they do very well, and that's run the football. Fullbacks Brandon Camara (5-11, 195) and Nolan Dambacher (6-3, 220) anchor Sonora's physical ground game. Dylan Fernandes is also a weapon as a rusher as the quarterback of the spread option, and 6-7 Mark Relei and Karson Canaday are two of his top targets in the passing game.
Manteca, meanwhile, has been stout against the run, giving up a total of just 56 rushing yards in its last two contests. Only one player has ran for over a 100 yards against the Buffalo defense: Kimball's standout quarterback Zack Johnson (12 carries, 115 yards), who ripped off a 69-yard TD scamper for most of his yardage.
Other Week-7 games:
Oakdale at E. Union
The Sac-Joaquin Section's No. 6-ranked squad comes to East Union averaging 48.5 points per game and doing most of it on the ground.
The Lancers (1-2, 1-5) are having a tough time containing the run and allow 36.3 points. Weston Ranch took advantage of that last week and had two rushers combine for over 300 yards in a 42-36 win.
Lathrop was able to stun Oakdale early on with two touchdown strikes in their Week-6 game, and EU is far more effective through the air. Sophomore QB Joe Menzel is coming off his best effort: 18 of 28, 292 yards, four touchdowns.
Kimball at Sierra
Sierra (1-2, 2-4) came into this game two games under .500 last year and ran the table to sneak into the playoffs. Kimball (0-3, 1-5) is much better this time around despite its own losing record.
The Jaguars opened the VOL season with the conference's top three squads, and they were 15 yards away from possibly tying their game with Sonora late last week. A turnover stalled that drive, and Sonora drove the length of the field to prevail, 35-20.
The six-win mark - which almost assures a postseason berth - is out of reach for Kimball, but a few 5-5 squads have qualified in the past. Kimball junior Zack Johnson is arguably the best dual-threat QB in the league.
Weston Ranch at Lathrop
The window is closing for the Spartans (0-3, 1-5) to garner the program's first VOL win at the varsity level.
They did well to keep up with Oakdale in the early going last week but gave up a touchdown on every first-half drive on defense.
Weston Ranch (1-2, 2-4), meanwhile, pounded its way to a homecoming win over East Union with a dominant showing from its ground attack. Tremain Buntan (177 yards, TD) and Donnell Sims (157 yards, three TDs) were unstoppable, and if they put forth a similar effort Friday it could be a long night for Lathrop because Weston Ranch can hit home runs through the air as well.
Ripon at Hughson
Coming off two straight losses to the Trans-Valley League's top teams, Ripon (0-2, 4-2) goes into the rest of its schedule battle tested against weaker opponents that should not be taken lightly.
It's no secret what Hughson (0-2, 3-3) does best. Senior RB Caleb Duron (655 yards, 7.4 per carry, seven TDs) accounts for almost half of the Huskies' offensive production, and they are 3-0 when he runs for over 150 yards. But in Hughson's three losses, Duron averaged only 35.7 yards.
Ripon is coming off a 31-14 loss to Escalon but played the defending state's Division-III Bowl champion tough despite four interceptions.
Turlock Ch. at Ripon Ch.
The Southern League's two parochial schools are also the two smallest in the conference.
Winless Turlock Christian comes in at a huge disadvantage with its No. 1 and 2 quarterbacks done for the season, leaving freshman Egan Farrar with the reins of the Eagles' pass-happy offense.
Ripon Christian (1-2, 2-4), meanwhile, will likely have its starting QB, Danny Vos, after he was out with whiplash in Saturday's impressive 58-13 drubbing of Denair. The Knights also welcomed back RB Zach Davis, and the closer they return to full health the better their chances are of winning out for a playoff spot.
WEEK 6 PREDICTIONS
Oakdale (6-0) at E. Union (1-5): Six have tried and six have failed in stopping Oakdale's smash-mouth running attack. That so happens to be an area of weakness for EU, which will rely on a sophomore QB to keep up. (49-14, Oakdale).
Sonora (5-1) at Manteca (6-0): The 'Cats will bring a physical running attack to Manteca's homecoming, but the Buffs have been terrific vs. the run. (31-13, Manteca).
Kimball (1-5) at Sierra (2-4): Battle-tested Kimball is led by one of the VOL's top players in QB Zack Johnson. If Sierra gets its spread offense firing on all cylinders, this must-win showdown could produce big numbers. (30-27, Kimball).
W. Ranch (2-4) at Lathrop (1-5): The Ranch proved it could pound away on the ground in last week's win over EU but is still dangerous through the air. Lathrop has given up an average of 50 points in league. (36-24, Weston Ranch).
Ripon (4-2) at Hughson (3-3): Both teams have started TVL play with two straight losses after finishing 7-1 combined in nonleague. It can be an easy night for Ripon if it can clamp down on standout RB Caleb Duron. (33-14, Ripon).
Turlock Ch. (0-6) at Ripon Ch. (2-4): While the Knights' starting QB is likely to return, TC is down to its No. 3 QB - a freshman. In a battle of the SL's smallest schools, RC has advantages in both talent and depth. (49-7, Ripon Ch.).
Last week: 5-0 (28-8 overall).