Sierra enters the 25th meeting with rival East Union with the taste of its first two defeats of the season still fresh on the lips.
East Union may be more desperate for a win, needing one more to meet the Sac-Joaquin Section’s minimum of four to be considered for the postseason while reeling from three consecutive losses. The Lancers (0-3 Valley Oak League, 3-4 overall) host this Week 8 showdown following their bye.
Sierra’s bye was sandwiched between road losses to VOL powers Central Catholic and Oakdale, and surging Manteca visits Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium next week.
“Games like that make you better,” Sierra coach Chris Johnson said. “As a football team you have to play tough teams that are well-coached and have good athletes. Like everything in life, you don’t learn much when things are going well and easy.
“It’s easy to let the little things slide because you covered them up with the victory, but games like that force you to look at yourself more critically. We have a lot of stuff that needs to get better. Those guys helped us learn and grow as a football team and hopefully we can carry those lessons with us for the rest of the year.”
The good news for the Timberwolves is that their talented trio of linebackers will be reunited Friday. Middle linebacker/offensive lineman Holden Fishburn missed the Central Catholic game with a knee injury, and Matt Dunham — who also starts in the offensive backfield — served a suspension against Oakdale after he was ejected from the previous game.
Kimoni Stanley remained productive through it all. He’s one of the section’s top rushers with 1,069 yards and 19 touchdowns.
East Union hasn’t been at full strength either. The Lancers missed five starters in their heartbreaking 48-44 loss to Kimball on Sept. 27, including all-league lineman Alex Yang and leading rusher Carlos Alvarez. Regardless of who is available, Johnson said his team is expecting the Lancers’ best effort Friday.
“They’re pretty dynamic on offense and have some good athletes,” Johnson said. “They’ve had a couple tough breaks, but there’s still cause for concern because they have good size up front, some fast backs and a quarterback (Eric Morales) who is very underrated.”
Sierra leads the all-time series 18-6 and has won 14 of the last 15.
Other Manteca Unified teams in action this week:
Manteca at Weston Ranch: The Buffaloes (2-1 VOL, 5-2 overall) head to the Ranch averaging 51.6 points per game after their 84-20 homecoming rout of Kimball last week.
That’s not good news for the Cougars (0-3, 1-5), who surrender points at a 51.7 clip. To be fair, Weston Ranch has had an imposing schedule as it rebuilds under first-year head coach Sal Reyes, as all of its defeats coming against teams that are on track for the postseason.
The VOL title is still in play for Manteca, which has intra-city foes Sierra and East Union ahead.
Lathrop at Johansen: Lathrop (1-3, 1-6 overall) has to win its final three Western Athletic Conference games to have a shot at qualifying for the playoffs.
It won’t be easy with yet another title-contending team to deal with. Johansen (3-1, 5-2) is in the middle of an impressive turnaround, matching its win total from the past from the past six years combined.
Lathrop then hosts Los Banos, one of three teams that trail WAC-leading Beyer by one game.