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TVL title goes through state champ Escalon
Jake McCreath and the rest of the Ripon High Indians have reason to celebrate after going 4-0 in nonleague play, but they are now preparing for a rugged Trans-Valley League schedule. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Trans Valley League

1. Escalon    47 (6)

2. Hilmar    38 (1)

3. Ripon    37

4. Modesto Ch.    23

5. Hughson    23

6. Orestimba    13

7. Riverbank    12

First-place votes in parentheses. Participating newspapers: Manteca Bulletin, Modesto Bee, Hughson Chronicle, Riverbank News, Merced Sun-Star, Turlock Journal and Ripon Record.

The Trans-Valley League has long been considered one of the toughest, if not the toughest, small-school football conferences in the state.

That was proven in the last two California Interscholastic Federation State Championship Bowl Games in Carson, where Modesto Christian (2009, small school) and Escalon (2010, Division IIII) have come away with titles.

Additionally, not one TVL team has a losing record heading into Friday’s conference openers.

The conversation starts and ends with Escalon (4-0) when it comes to predicting the 2011 TVL champion. Six out of seven first-place votes went to the Cougars in a media poll conducted by the Bulletin, and it’s hard to argue against them.

The winners of eight Sac-Joaquin Section banners are set up to earn a ninth with most of their key players, including 2010 MVP Josh Miguel (RB/DB), back from last season’s state-championship squad.

Escalon, a school of about 900 students, proved it could play with the big boys in Week 3, beating Patterson — which has a student body nearly twice its size. “Big boys” and “size” are the operative words here, as Patterson boasts one of the biggest and baddest lines that includes USC commit Pio Vatuvei (6-3, 270), Andrew Tupuola (6-0, 300) and Tim Tupouola (6-3, 390).

Predicting how the rest of the teams will finish from 2 to 7 in the TVL isn’t so clear cut.

Hilmar (3-1) received the other first-place vote — somewhat curious, but not entirely insane. The Yellowjackets, after all, host Escalon in the final week of the regular season.

Like Escalon, Hilmar has been tested by larger schools. It split with two Division-I Modesto Metro Conference opponents — 30-27 loss to Beyer, 32-18 win over reigning champ Enochs — in nonleague play.

Ripon (4-0) is off to one of its best starts in years, capping its preleague schedule with an impressive and stunning 33-19 win over Mother Lode League favorite Argonaut on homecoming night last week.

The Indians, who have arguably the deepest set of skill players in the league, will find out where they stand in the TVL right away, heading to Hilmar this Friday before hosting Escalon Oct. 7 following a bye week.

Modesto Christian (2-2) goes into league with the worst record but is clearly the most battle-tested. All of the Crusaders’ games were decided by no more than 8 points, and their most recent contest ended with an eye-catching 58-50 loss to Division-I Downey.

While MC lacks depth with only 22 players on its roster, it boasts an NCAA Division-I prospect in Nathan Sudfeld. The 6-5, 215-pound QB is heading to the University of Arizona.

Hughson (3-1) appears to be on its way back to prominence with a quality win over Bret Harte under its belt, but the Huskies’ 33-0 setback against Patterson showed them that there is work still left to be done.

Orestimba (3-1) was thought of to be in rebuilding mode after losing dynamic twins Ramone and Ravonne Pious from last year’s playoff team. The Warriors’ 29-22 victory over Southern League contender Mariposa surely caught the attention of opposing TVL teams.

Even Riverbank (3-1), a longtime cellar dweller in the TVL, has a winning record.  Its nonleague schedule was soft, but it has been a while since the Bruins went into league with some confidence.