Lathrop was close to severely damaging its opportunity to gain a Sac-Joaquin Section postseason berth last Friday at Sierra’s Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium.
The Spartans overcame a two-score deficit in the second half and held on for a dramatic 21-20 win clinched by cornerback Dan Ballesteros’ batted ball on fourth-and-long inside the 5.
“It means everything,” Lathrop coach Joe Pirillo said after the game. “We’re back to .500. This game was very important for both teams to get back on track, and we have another big one next week.”
East Union (1-2 Valley Oak League, 4-2 overall) visits Lathrop’s Bennie Gatto Field this Friday for a showdown loaded with playoff implications. Pirillo’s Spartans will have revenge in mind after their 26-14 loss to East Union helped keep them from making a second-straight postseason appearance in 2016.
Central Catholic and Oakdale remain undefeated in the VOL, with Manteca in third following losses to both. They are big favorites to grab the three automatic berths in league, while Lathrop (2-1, 3-3) and East Union have the best chances to give the VOL a fourth postseason qualifier with an at-large bid.
With one less win the Lancers, Lathrop absolutely needs this one to keep its hopes alive, especially since Central Catholic and Oakdale still remain on the schedule. There are more winnable games (vs. Sierra and at Weston Ranch) ahead for East Union after this week before its 51st meeting with rival Manteca in Week 10.
The magic number is six — as in six wins — for playoff hopefuls on the bubble, and a victory on Friday puts the Lancers once step closer to that mark. Lathrop could still get in with a 5-5 finish thanks to its strength of schedule, which includes a lopsided loss to Delta League powerhouse Franklin of Elk Grove and defending Trans-Valley League champion Hilmar.
Here’s a look at other Week 7 contests in the area:
Kimball (1-5) at Manteca (4-2): The Buffaloes have dropped out of the Cal-Hi Sports top 50 state rankings after losing two of their last three to No. 31 Oakdale and No. 32 Central Catholic.
The good news for Manteca is that the toughest part of its schedule is in the rear-view mirror. Up next is a Kimball team that snapped a 13-game losing streak with a resounding 41-0 homecoming win over Weston Ranch. Manteca’s next three opponents — including Weston ranch and Sierra — have four combined wins.
Sierra (2-4) at Oakdale (5-1): Sierra hurt its chances to earn a postseason berth with the loss to Lathrop last week. The Timberwolves would have to win out to get in, but Oakdale and Manteca are among their final four opponents.
They’re already heavy underdogs heading to The Corral this Friday, when Oakdale celebrates its homecoming. Making matters worse, they’ll be minus their best player, Larenz Redd, who was ejected from the Lathrop game.
Weston Ranch (1-5) at Central Catholic (5-0): The Cougars were done in by their own mistakes at Kimball last week, including fumbles inside their own 10-yard line that led to easy touchdowns.
Central Catholic, with its physical line play and efficiency on offense, doesn’t need the help. The Raiders have impressive road wins over St. Mary’s and Manteca and have beaten the rest of their opponents — Archbishop Riordan, Sierra and East Union — by an average margin of 50 points.
Modesto Christian (2-4) at Ripon (4-2): The five-week sprint in the TVL continues with a dangerous Modesto Christian team for the Indians, who dominated the second half of their league opener at Mountain House for a 33-21 win.
The Crusaders’ record is deceiving. They have three-point losses to reigning SJS Division V champion Capital Christian and Immanuel of the Central Section. Ripon has won six of the last seven meetings with Modesto Christian.
Gustine (5-1) at Ripon Christian (4-2): It’s the game of the week in the Southern Athletic League, as these two teams look to keep up with undefeated Orestimba, which thumped Ripon Christian 40-0 three weeks ago.
The Knights have won two straight since, but they’re up against a Gustine team that opened eyes with a 30-24 victory over Hilmar nonleague play. The Reds are unbeaten in the SAL so far and doesn’t see Orestimba until Week 10.
It’s not do-or-die for Ripon Christian, which has a good shot at making the playoffs even with a loss Friday. The remaining teams on its schedule have two or less wins.