For the first time in its short history, the “Battle of I-5” has something up for grabs.
Lathrop High will host Weston Ranch High tonight at Benny Gatto Field in Paul Wiggins Stadium.
Both teams are 1-2 in the Valley Oak League, with the winner staying in the running for a playoff berth.
“We started this series three years ago as a friendly rivalry game,” said Cougars coach Seth Davis Thursday at CK Bar & Grill in Lathrop.
Weston Ranch (4-2) is coming off a last-minute victory over East Union, a common opponent of both teams.
The Spartans (3-3) handled the Lancers a few weeks earlier, 35-0.
Not lost is that both head coaches are products of Eric Reis’ system at Manteca High. Joe Pirillo, who is in his first year at the helm for Lathrop, and Davis are two years apart from their playing days with the Buffaloes.
“If we had made the playoffs in my senior year, Seth mostly likely would have been called up (to varsity),” said Pirillo, who is a member of the Class of 2004.
A member of the Class of 2006, Davis was a sophomore back then.
He’s now in his third year as head coach of the Cougars. This year’s squad is led by senior running back / defensive back Erron Duncan, who is fresh off a performance in which he rushed for a bulk of his game-high 207 yards in the second half, including the game winner.
No secret, Duncan knows that the Lathrop defense will be keying on him.
“I know my team will find ways in which to get me the ball,” he said.
Duncan is always on the field, getting a play or two off after a long run. Davis credits his strength and stamina.
“Erron is one of the strongest players on this team,” he said. “He’s certainly the most fit.”
The Spartans are coming off back-to-back tough losses to Central Catholic and Oakdale. Pirillo is hoping for his battle-tested squad to rebound back into the win column.
“We’re trying to get back on track. We want to finish the season out the right way,” he said.
Lathrop will look to quarterback Diego Chavez to set the tone on offense.
“He doesn’t have to make plays with his feet but, instead, manage the game,” Pirillo said of senior signal-caller.
Chavez believes he’s learned just that after the two tough games.
“I think adversity will help make us a better team,” he said. “I just have to keep throwing and put turnovers – interceptions or fumbles – behind.”
Davis noted that the Spartans are a discipline team that usually puts forth plenty of effort. “We know that they’re not taking any plays off,” he said.
He and then Lathrop coach Steven Wichman initiated the “Battle of I-5” a few years ago as a game once played for pride not to mention the half Spartans / half Cougars helmet trophy.
It’s finally a high-stakes showdown.
In other games tonight:
uEast Union (0-3, 3-3) is still mathematically in the hunt to qualify for the playoffs, but the schedule only gets more daunting for the Lancers. They have yet to face any of the VOL’s three 6-0 teams, and first up is reigning SJS Division III champion Oakdale, which visits Dino Cunial Field on Friday. The Mustangs bring their efficient Wing-T, led by talented quarterback Adam Olsen, and the defense has given up no more than 15 points in a game.
uNo team has had a more grueling start to its VOL schedule as Tracy’s Kimball (0-3, 1-5), which was outscored by Manteca, Oakdale and Central Catholic, 169-10. The Jaguars next head to Sierra’s Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium. The defending co-champion Timberwolves (1-2, 3-3) played their city rivals the past two weeks, first beating East Union 54-28 before falling to Manteca, 43-8. Sierra can get back on track against a team struggling to score points, as Kimball has just 20 in its five losses.
uRipon Christian (2-1, 5-1) can vault itself back into the running for the Southern League title on Friday with a win over undefeated Gustine at home. Coming off a 59-0 shutout at Waterford, the Knights’ hard-hitting defense is sure to be tested by the physical Brandon Labry (1,054 yards, 12.0 per carry, 11 touchdowns) and dual-threat QB Sebastian Figueroa (687 yards, 13 TDs passing; 317 yards, four TDs rushing). Ripon Christian seeks revenge after a 23-7 upset loss in Gustine ultimately kept it from capturing a share of the championship.
uOn the heels of a momentous 52-35 victory at Hilmar, Ripon (1-0 Trans-Valley League, 3-3 overall) can add to the momentum tonight when it travels to first-year varsity Mountain House. The Mustangs (0-1, 0-6) have taken their lumps, to say the least. They were dusted at Modesto Christian 60-7 in what was their second worst loss of the season. Meanwhile, Ripon running back Jacob Duxbury had a memorable night in Hilmar, rushing for 207 yards and adding 113 receiving on top of scoring three touchdowns.