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Media poll: Buffs are favorites, but not by much
Oakdale and Sierra are the defending co-champions of the Valley Oak League.

Manteca High is favored to win it this year based on a media poll conducted by the Bulletin.

But Manteca head coach Eric Reis thinks Sonora is the team to beat.

It comes down to home-field advantage, and his Buffaloes have had their troubles at Sonora’s esteemed Dunlavy Field. That game takes place Oct. 15.

“We have to play Sonora at Sonora, which I would think would have them favored,” Reis said. “Sonora has played elite teams and has been in some hard-fought battles.”

As has his own team over its pre-league schedule. And, really, so has many others in the rest of the league.

The 2010 season is one of the few in which there isn’t/aren’t one or two clear favorites. There is little separation between the traditional “Big Three” of Manteca, Oakdale and Sonora, according to media poll.

Manteca received three of the six first-place votes, with Oakdale getting two and Sonora one.  The Bulletin polled four other newspapers — Oakdale Leader, The Record, Modesto Bee and Sonora Union Democrat — from the region.

Sierra is at No. 4, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the Timberwolves were to sneak into the top three.

The consensus is that East Union — one of two undefeated teams going into the VOL — is the best of the rest, and the Lancers are in position to earn the program’s first Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berth since 1993.

“We’ve got a big mountain to climb,” East Union coach Mike James said after Friday’s 21-7 win over Ceres. “We know that for the guy at the top of the mountain it’s a much better view looking down. I tell these guys all the time that the team that’s on the top didn’t fall to get there.

 “That’s our goal; we want to be at the top. (To be) 3-0 is awesome. We’re ecstatic, and the kids are so pumped up about winning.”

Lathrop garnered its first two varsity wins the last two weeks, but they were close calls against struggling McClatchy, 28-21, and Division V Highlands, 16-14. Weston Ranch and first-year varsity Kimball remain winless.

Oakdale and Sierra, which happen to kick off the VOL this Friday against each other, may each be 1-2, but the losses were two quality opponents.

Oakdale was dealt a 39-14 defeat to undefeated Turlock in Week 2 before losing a 31-28 heartbreaker to powerhouse Granite Bay. Sierra opened the season with a zero-week loss to Enochs, 35-25, but that was with sophomore RB Anthony Cota unavailable. The Timberwolves also lost to Granada of Livermore, 56-42.

Manteca surely didn’t cakewalk its way to a 3-0 record, needing wild comebacks to beat Tracy, 47-42, and Enochs, 34-33.

Sonora (2-1) is arguably the most battle-tested of the bunch, with all of its non-league contests decided by three or less points. The Wildcats’ two wins — 35-34 over Johansen, 48-47 over Calaveras — were clinched in overtime.

“This year’s league will be one where scoreboard watching and trying to figure out how each team will do against the other won’t matter,” Reis said. “The teams are close enough to each other that turnovers and mistakes can allow anybody to beat anybody.”