Five Manteca-area teams are battling for playoff positions as the regular season nears its end.
Heading into their Week 9 contests, East Union and Manteca already have their tickets punched with mirroring 6-2 records. Both have winnable games Friday, and if they take care of business they’ll be locked in a Valley Oak League battle for third place and the final available automatic berth for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs next week.
Manteca is the reigning SJS Division IV champion and could end up defending its crown if its enrollment doesn’t bump it up to the more competitive Division III bracket.
In all, 78 teams in the section qualify for the postseason and are placed in enrollment-based brackets with a few exceptions. The powerhouse Delta and Sierra Foothill leagues each get four automatic entries, and the VOL is one of six conferences with three while all others get two. There are 22 at-large qualifiers based on total wins.
Lathrop, at 3-5, has an outside shot at making it but will have to go through juggernaut Oakdale on the road this week. Oakdale is the defending champion in Division III, while Central Catholic, due to the “continued success” rule, must compete in Division II.
Ripon and Ripon Christian each have two opportunities to tally their sixth wins, which is usually good for an at-large bid. Ripon remains in contention for at least a share of the Trans-Valley League title despite its 42-41 loss to Modesto Christian two weeks ago. On Friday, MC travels to Escalon, which could force a possible three-way split with a win.
Here’s a look at the Week 9 matchups:
E. Union (6-2) at W. Ranch (1-7): After ending a 13-year losing streak to rival Sierra, the Lancers will look to continue their turnaround at the Ranch, which owns a 10-3 series lead.
The Lancers’ pistol/Wing-T has been rolling against the VOL’s lower-tier teams, and the defense has given up just 24 points in their three league wins. Weston Ranch gives up 55 points per game, but QB Amier Bowen gives the Cougars a chance to score on any play.
Manteca (6-2) at Sierra (2-6): Manteca has dominated this rivalry series with a 16-6 lead and is favored to make it five straight against the struggling Timberwolves.
The Buffaloes’ offense is settling into a groove, and the return of playmaking receiver Carter Williams from a leg injury has been a boost. He caught three passes for touchdowns in last week’s 60-14 win over Weston Ranch and totaled 111 yards from scrimmage.
Sierra has dropped four straight since its league-opening win against Kimball.
Lathrop (3-5) at Oakdale (7-1): The Spartans have to win out to have a chance at making the playoffs, but their next assignment is a tough one.
They travel to The Corral on Friday to take on the No. 23 team in the Cal-Hi Sports top-50 state rankings. The Mustangs have been unstoppable since their Week 2 defeat to No. 7-ranked Folsom, and they’ll want to continue the trend in the lead-up for next week’s much-anticipated regular-season finale against unbeaten Central Catholic.
Central Catholic scored all of their points in the first half of a 42-6 win at Lathrop last week.
Ripon (5-3) at Hughson (4-4): The Indians must guard against a letdown following their emotional 32-14 win over traditional rival Escalon on Senior Night.
Hughson is also vying for a postseason berth and kept its hopes alive with a 38-32 overtime win at Mountain House last Friday. The Huskies trailed 20-0 after the first quarter. They are not a team to be taken lightly as evidenced by their competitive 28-20 loss to Mother Lode League contender Summerville, which is currently 7-1.
Le Grand (2-6) at Ripon Ch. (5-3): The toughest part of the schedule is behind Ripon Christian after it held off Mariposa on the road, 35-20.
Le Grand’s only victories have come against winless Linden and 3-5 Delhi. The Bulldogs were shut out in three of their first four contests and have only scored 20 or more points twice.