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Upstart Spartans seek second straight victory
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Week 3 matchups
Highlands (2-1) at Lathrop (1-1)
Weston Ranch (0-2) at Bear Creek (0-2)
Ripon (2-1) at Argonaut (2-0)
Linden (0-2) at Ripon Christian (0-2)
Jesse Rodriguez has won many games as a head coach in the East Bay. His first varsity victory as Lathrop High’s head coach ranks highly on his list.

After going 0-9 last year with no seniors and dropping their first 2010 contest 37-0 against always-tough Escalon, the Spartans (1-1) came from behind to upend McClatchy of Sacramento 28-21 on the road Saturday to make school history.

“It will definitely be one of my most memorable wins,” Rodriguez said. “At first I was torn about feeling good about the win; I was upset that we gave up three big plays and gave up the lead, but then I realized how hard the kids worked to win the game.”

Down 14-7 at halftime, Lathrop ate up over 8 minutes on the opening drive of the third quarter to tie it up. McClatchy ran a handful of plays from scrimmage in the second half and retook the lead at 21-20 with 4 minutes left in the game with a long pass.

Lathrop prevailed in the final minute with a 49-yard touchdown run from Brandon McLaurin.

“We had dominated the game and found ourselves losing,” Rodriguez said. “The kids responded with a last minute score to win, that was big.”

Even bigger would be achieving two more firsts this Friday: the program’s first varsity win at home, and its first winning streak.

Lathrop caps its pre-league schedule against Highlands (2-1), a solid Division VI team coming off a playoff season. The Scots are beatable but dangerous enough to challenge the upstart Spartans.

Highlands has wins over two other small schools, West Campus (56-7) and Millennium (28-27), but lost to Division III Mira Loma 26-20 last week.

Robert Garvin is Highlands’ big-play threat out of the spread offense with the ability to burn defenses by running and catching out of the backfield.

Lathrop’s best bet is to again grind it out on the ground with the Wishbone Offense. Running backs Andrew Aquino and Christian Pena combined for 273 yards in Saturday’s win while keeping McClatchy’s potent passing attack on the sideline.

“(Garvin) is pretty explosive and versatile,” Rodriguez said. “They line him up everywhere on the field. We have to contain him, and we have to get pressure on their quarterback to help out our pass coverage some.”

It’s a good matchup for Lathrop, which will see teams in the Valley Oak League that run similar schemes on both sides of scrimmage. Garvin also leads Highlands’ 3-3-5 nickel defense as a defensive back.

A win Friday would be huge for Lathrop, and not just for the sake of getting another tally in the win column. If the Spartans can win and look good in doing so, that can go a long way going into their VOL opener at East Union — another area team looking to make a statement this year.

“I think it is big to get two wins in a row, it will also be a first for the school, but it will also prove to our kids that last week was not a fluke, that we can be competitive with any team we play,” Rodriguez said. “The mental part of the game is so important for our team — creating an identity and believing in it.”

Ripon at Argonaut
The good news for Ripon is that the Mustangs (2-0) graduated most of their top skill players — namely running backs Danny Welch (1,375 yards, 19 TDs) and Steven Bennett (872 yards, eight TDs) — who led their 24-0 win over the Indians last year.

The bad news? They still have a very good defense, a big and physical offensive line and are tough at its home stadium in Jackson.

Shifty Kyle Richardi returns to Argonaut’s backfield, and bruising fullback Tyler Rampage (5-11, 230) is a returning all-Mother Lode League linebacker. Outside linebacker PJ Rubel is another playmaker on the defensive side, with Chris Russell (6-3, 300), Bill Danner (6-2, 235) and Nigel Dreksler (5-9, 225) back in the trenches.

Ripon will be Argonaut’s first real test of the season after rolling inferior teams in first-year varsity Liberty Ranch (44-21) and Gustine (60-6).

Weston Ranch at Bear Creek
Neither team can blame their lack of depth this week; there are less than 25 players on each roster.

Both teams are also coming off promising efforts in defeat. Weston Ranch (0-2) hung tough with Tokay for three quarters before losing, 42-21. The Bruins (0-2) nearly came back to beat East Union in a 16-13 loss after getting blown out by Tokay 35-6 in Week 1.

Olahjuan Rayford entered the EU game in the second half and was effective as both a passer and a runner. His performance may have earned him a start against the Cougars.

Hybrid receiver/running back Jack Phouminavong is Bear Creek’s offensive sparkplug and has scored two of the team’s three touchdowns.

Linden at Ripon Christian
Ripon Christian will take its turn in trying to do what Ripon and Escalon couldn’t: Stop Linden running back Jeremy Powers.

Powers shredded both Ripon and Escalon’s traditionally tough defense for over 200 yards apiece. He now has 483 yards and six touchdowns and averages nearly 10 yards per carry.

Ripon Christian and Linden are winless through two games, but it will be another uphill climb for the former. The Knights were dealt a 44-0 loss Saturday to Ripon, a team Linden kept pace with in a 41-28 setback in Week 1.

Linden will look to clamp down defensively after giving up over 40 points in its first two contests, while RC tries to get on track on offense. The Knights have just 308 yards of offense so far, and RB Isaac Norman has yet to break out.