Gino Campiotti remembers his first varsity encounter with Central Catholic, and not too fondly.
Thrust into action early in the second half after starting quarterback Dakarai Charles went down with an apparent shoulder injury, the then sophomore got a firsthand look at the reigning small-schools state champion. Campiotti was sacked on his first pass attempt, and the Buffaloes lost, 28-6.
“It was an eye-opener,” Campiotti told the Bulletin in the preseason. “They were big, they were strong and they were fast. Just playing mainly defense up to that point, I saw size but nothing like that. This year we have that kind of athletic ability and I definitely think we can compete with them.”
Campiotti and the Buffaloes (3-0 Valley Oak League, 6-0 overall) will get to see where they stack up with the Sac-Joaquin Section’s elite this Friday, when they travel to Modesto to take on the Raiders (3-0, 4-2).
It’s one of several huge matchups for area teams also hitting the road Friday. East Union heads to The Corral to take on always-formidable Oakdale in a battle of 5-1 squads, and Ripon faces Modesto Christian in a pivotal Trans Valley League showdown. Meanwhile, Sierra (at Kimball), Weston Ranch (vs. Lathrop) and Ripon Christian (at Gustine) aim to keep their postseason chances alive.
Central Catholic checks in as the No. 16 team in the MaxPreps Northern California rankings. Manteca is tabbed at No. 19. Although the Buffaloes remain the lone undefeated team in the VOL, Central is battle hardened by a challenging nonleague schedule that kicked off with a lopsided win over Marin Catholic in a rematch of the 2015 CIF NorCal Small Schools Division Bowl Game.
The Raiders then gave San Diego’s Cathedral Catholic — the state’s seventh-ranked team according to Cal-Hi Sports — a scare in a 28-25 loss and were shut out by St. Mary’s in the Holy Bowl, 49-0. St. Mary’s, ranked second in NorCal, took advantage of a depleted Central Catholic team that had 19 players sit out the first half for disciplinary reasons.
Central Catholic graduated much of its talent from its dominant 2015 team that finished 16-0, namely All-VOL MVP Justin Rice (now at Fresno State), quarterback Hunter Petlansky (Columbia) and All-VOL Defensive Player of the Year Kekupaa Freehauf.
Returning seniors Jared Rice and Montell Bland lead the reloaded Raiders and is a dynamic duo coming out of the backfield. Rice has rushed for 801 yards but is a threat to score in all phases, posting seven of his touchdowns on running plays, two on kickoff returns and another on an interception. The physical Bland (370 yards, nine TDs) is also the team’s leading tackler on defense. Daron Bland (327 yards, two TDs) is the top receiver for quarterback Cole Petlansky (480 yards, four TDs, four INTs).
Central Catholic has yet to be tested in league, blowing out its first three opponents — Weston Ranch, Lathrop and Kimball — by an average margin of 44.7 points. Manteca wiped out Kimball, Weston Ranch and Sierra by an average of 42 points.
Campiotti (677 yards, nine TDs, no picks) and running back Kameron Beamon (671 yards, nine TDs) spearhead Manteca with wide receivers Jose Garcia (536 total yards, six TDs) and Joel Olmos (375 total yards, four TDs) also starring in the balanced attack.
The defense, which has allowed just 32 points all season, will be bolstered by the return of 6-foot-4, 270-pound defensive end Justin Kakala and hard-hitting inside linebacker James Thomas (concussion). Kakala served a one-game suspension last week after he was ejected during the Weston Ranch game.
East Union (2-1, 5-1) at Oakdale (3-0, 5-1)
It’s the start of a brutal closing stretch to the regular season for the Lancers, who still have Central Catholic and Manteca left on the schedule. For now, they have their sights on surging Oakdale, which has five impressive wins under its belt after a week-zero loss to still-unbeaten Sonora.
The Mustangs have been without fullback Will Semone, who injured an ankle in their VOL-opening win at Sierra. In the week prior, he rambled for more than 250 yards rushing in an upset win at Campolindo. Receiver-turned-tailback Cameron Cherry has since emerged in Semone’s absence, and Oakdale creamed Kimball and Lathrop in its last two outings.
East Union hasn’t beaten Oakdale in more than a decade, and it’s a tall order for any team to get the better of the Mustangs at The Corral. The Lancers can greatly increase their chances of making the playoffs if they can pull off the upset Friday.
Sierra (1-2, 4-2) at
Kimball (0-3, 1-5)
This could be a dangerous matchup for Sierra following a landslide loss to rival Manteca.
Kimball has had an unforgiving league schedule so far having already faced the league’s three traditional powers in succession — Manteca, Oakdale and Central Catholic. Not that it gets much easier for the Jaguars, who now welcome the defending CIF State Division IV-A champion Timberwolves.
Kimball boats one of the league’s best running backs in 6-foot-3, 220-pound juggernaut Ryan Rivera (875 yards, 7.4 per carry, eight TDs). Only Manteca has been able to keep him from breaking the century mark. At linebacker, Rivera is also the Jaguars’ leading tackler with 50 stops.
Lathrop (0-3, 1-5) at Weston Ranch (0-3, 3-3)
One of these teams will get off the schneid in this edition of the Battle of I-5.
Lathrop has sustained five straight defeats since squeaking out its season-opening win at West of Tracy, while the Cougars followed a 3-0 start with three losses in a row.
Both teams have sputtered offensively since the start of league, combining for just 37 points. Lathrop hasn’t scored since a 26-14 loss at East Union on Sept. 23.
The postseason remains a possibility for the Weston Ranch, which needs to win at least three of its final four to make a bid for an at-large berth. The good news for the Cougars is two of the three league powers (Central Catholic, Manteca) are in the rear-view mirror.
Trans Valley League
Ripon (1-0, 3-3) at Modesto Christian (1-0, 3-3)
The game of the week in the TVL takes place in Salida, where the Indians resume their five-game sprint in defense of the 2015 co-championship.
Ripon pummeled Mountain House 48-0 in its league opener on homecoming night last week, and Modesto Christian held off Hughson, 14-6. It’s a must-win for both squads with big games ahead; Ripon heads to Escalon next while the Crusaders travel to league favorite Hilmar.
The streaking Crusaders, winners of three straight, have two outstanding rushers in Chris Brown (727 yards, nine TDs) and Davion Gates (682-8) and are now more dangerous with 6-4 quarterback Rory Hanson — a transfer from Tracy High — playing in his second game since gaining eligibility.
Ripon Christian (1-2, 2-4) at Gustine (2-1, 3-3)
Ripon Christian’s postseason hopes are hanging by a thread after its stunning 32-0 loss at Denair.
Battle-tested Gustine has losses to TVL contenders Hilmar and Modesto Christian as well as undefeated Delhi, the surprising leader in the SL. The Reds kicked off league with a commanding 35-14 win over Denair but staved off struggling Mariposa 28-26 last week.