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Mustangs eye sixth straight title but spoilers loom
Then-sophomore QB Spencer Thomas escapes the pocket during Oakdales Valley Oak League contest with Sierra on Sept. 25, 2010. The two squads will meet tonight at Sierras Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Oakdale High has captured at least a share of eight of the last 10 Valley Oak League championships, including the previous five in succession.

The Mustangs (2-1) are favored to make it six in a row, but they get what is expected to be their stiffest league challenge in the opener tonight at Sierra (3-0). They were polled to finish 1 and 2, respectively, by local media, with Oakdale getting three of four first-place votes and the Timberwolves receiving the other.

With eight returning starters on defense and talented third-year QB Spencer Thomas steering the Mustangs’ powerful Wing-T attack, it is easy to see why they are so highly touted. Oakdale reached the last two Sac-Joaquin Section Division III finals, losing both times to Del Oro — the 2011 Northern California representative in the CIF State Division II Bowl Game.

Last year, Oakdale pummeled VOL opponents by an average 36-point margin. Sierra gave it the most fits, albeit for a quarter. Star running back Anthony Cota had already rushed for over 100 yards while the Timberwolves took a 14-10 lead into the second quarter.

Their chances of completing the upset — and ultimately making the playoffs — were derailed when Cota sustained a forearm injury that kept him sidelined until Week 10. Oakdale raced to a 45-14 victory.

Cota is back for a third varsity season, giving some reason to believe that Sierra can get the better of the Mustangs this time around. From the second half of its season opener against Tracy to their final nonleague contest with Laguna Creek in Week 2, the undefeated Timberwolves fired on all cylinders before settling into their bye.

Three 1-2 squads make up the next tier of VOL contenders. Despite their records, none of them are considered pushovers.

Manteca, Sonora, Kimball — predicted to finish 3-4-5 — all could be 2-1 at this point if not for some tough losses. The Buffaloes lost two straight to two 4-0 teams, Los Banos and Stagg, and dropped their preleague finale in the final minute. Sonora suffered single-digit defeats to Turlock and Northern Section heavyweight Paradise.

While Manteca and Sonora are traditional VOL stalwarts, newcomer Kimball has the pieces to do some damage in its third season. The Jaguars can prove that with a win over visiting Manteca tonight. Manteca has another tough road contest in Week 7, when it heads to Sonora’s Dunlavy Field.

Always-dangerous Weston Ranch (2-1) also has a chance to make a statement as Sonora visits the South Stockton campus. Sonora needed a fourth-quarter charge to overcome the Cougars 34-29 in last year’s opener.

Winless East Union and Lathrop took their lumps in nonleague play, and neither of them faced cupcakes. St. Mary’s was among EU’s first three opponents, while Lathrop took on squads that are a combined 10-2 so far.

Because of their strong level of opposition, it is tough to gauge where East Union and Lathrop are at as they continue to build toward contention. They will square off tonight at East Union’s Dino Cunial Field.