All three high schools in Manteca are hosting their Valley Oak League openers this Friday.
With renovations ongoing at its own venue, East Union (3-2) will welcome defending champion Central Catholic (3-2) at Lathrop High’s Bennie Gatto Field.
Meanwhile, Manteca (3-2) gets a break from its road-heavy schedule with Kimball (2-3) meeting the Buffaloes at Guss Schmiedt Field. And Sierra (3-2) is fresh off a needed bye week for its opener against Oakdale (4-1).
East Union missed an opportunity to knock off a big-name opponent on the road last week, botching a two-score lead in the fourth quarter in a 27-26 loss at Lincoln of Stockton.
Despite the disappointing result, the Lancers had another good showing from the defense and air attack headed by sophomore Kirk Simoni, the second-leading passer in the Sac-Joaquin Section.
It doesn’t get any easier with Central Catholic on the way.
The Raiders have losses against two NorCal powers — St. Mary’s and Serra of San Mateo — but are bolstered by the addition of three key transfers: 6-foot-7, 280-pound tackle and Florida State committed Manasse Itete (Modesto Christian), 6-foot, 270-pound lineman Darius Brown (Gregori) and linebacker Anthony Todd (Gregori).
The three newcomers debuted in Central Catholic’s 49-7 pummeling of Chico-based Pleasant Valley last week. Fourth-year quarterback Tyler Wentworth (Clemson baseball commit), receiver/safety Brooklyn Cheek (Cal) and 6-3, 350-pound Troy Leota are among the returning standouts on the Raiders’ loaded roster.
Reigning SJS Division II champion Manteca is ramping up for league after an up-and-down front-half of the regular season marred by injuries.
Coach Mark Varnum said following last week’s 48-6 trouncing of Lodi at the Grape Bowl that star running back Bryson Davis should be ready for the league kickoff. He has been out with an elbow injury since his 325-yard, four-touchdown outburst in the Buffaloes’ Week Zero win at Vista del Lago.
Rising underclassmen such as sophomore Jhadis Luckey and freshman Nikko Juarez have since had standout performances in Davis’ place.
Manteca takes on a reloaded Kimball squad that has competitive losses to large-school opponents Tracy and Lincoln and undefeated Moorpark.
Sophomore Josiah Wilson has taken over as the dual-threat QB in the Jaguars’ spread offense. Although Kimball has lost much of its top offensive weapons, there is enough returning experience on the offensive line and defense to keep the Jags competitive. Third-year middle linebacker Junior Saaverda, 6-4, 350-pound lineman Isaac Tapelu and all-league receiver Darius Doyle lead the way.
Sierra and its blossoming passing game, spearheaded by junior QB Zak Willson, gets a boost this week with the return of all-league running back Anthony Grady. The third-year senior was ejected during Sierra’s Week 3 loss to unbeaten Armijo and sat out in the 49-6 mauling of Modesto. The week off that followed gave the Timberwolves a chance to heal up with injuries to key starters mounting in the opening month of the season.
They’ll start VOL play with one of the league’s tradition-rich titans. Oakdale has won eight of the last nine meetings with the Timberwolves, whose lone win in that stretch came in the 2019 SJS Division IV championship game.
The Mustangs are off to a winning start under first-year coach Garrett Martin. Their one defeat so far this season came two weeks ago in a long-awaited showdown with Escalon, which prevailed at The Corral, 41-21.
Oakdale is anchored by 6-2, 260-pound lineman Charlie Kjeldgaard and a stable of running backs that includes returning senior Gabe McDonald.
Here’s a look at other Week 6 games in the area:
Lathrop (2-0, 3-2) at Beyer (0-2, 0-5): The streaking Spartans have an opportunity to win five in a row with a pair of winless opponents coming up.
Up first are the Patriots of Beyer, who have been shut out twice. Their latest setback was 34-7 at Ceres, which dropped its Western Athletic Conference opener against Lathrop.
The Spartans remain true to their ground-and-pound assault out of the Wing-T, but the passing game is providing a boost with the emergence of junior Jordan Blase.
Ripon (2-3) at Modesto Christian (2-3): With the heartbreaking 14-13 loss to Liberty Ranch behind them, the Indians will look to get back on track at Modesto Christian.
The Crusaders have dropped two straight lopsided losses to Stone Ridge Christian and Summerville. Their offense remains dangerous with 6-foot receiver Jeremiah Bernard (711 yards, 10 TDs), who has the most receiving yards in the SJS and third most in the state.
Waterford (1-1, 2-3) at Ripon Christian (2-0, 4-1): After their comfortable win against Orestimba, the Knights are believed to have a clear path to the Southern Athletic League championship with still five games remaining.
Waterford is led by a promising group of underclassmen. Freshman quarterback Bryan Martinez and sophomore Lincoln Wagner are in the backfield, while junior Christian Gayle is the Wildcats’ top receiver and among state leaders in interceptions with five.