League championships, a 10-0 finish and playoff berths are on the line Friday when the regular-season comes to a close.
Ripon Christian already has at least a share of the Southern Athletic League championship in hand, while Ripon and Manteca have a chance to grab co-titles in the Trans-Valley and Valley Oak leagues, respectively. Their Week 10 results will also affect playoff seedings. East Union and Sierra, meanwhile, are playing for the postseason lives.
Much is at stake Friday for two city rivals who will converge at East Union’s Dino Cunial Field, as the Lancers (2-3 VOL, 3-6 overall) host Manteca (4-1, 6-3) for their 52nd meeting.
It’s a win-or-stay-home situation for East Union, a bubble team for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. Currently ranked 11th in the CalPreps.com Division IV rankings, an upset victory would be enough to launch the Lancers back into the postseason for a third straight year.
Crazier things have happened in this heated rivalry series led by Manteca, 37-13-1. In 2010, Manteca’s bid for a perfect regular season was dashed by East Union, which scored a stunning 10-7 triumph that clinched a first playoff berth since 1992 for the Lancers. It was also their first win over Manteca since 1999.
Seventy-eight teams qualify for the playoffs, with 12 teams placed in Divisions I-VI and six in Division VII. Automatic berths go to league champions, and teams must have at least four overall wins to qualify. Top 12 squads in their respective divisions (for I-VI) that do not have the prerequisite four wins are dropped and replaced by the next highest-ranked team.
Sierra (2-3, 4-5) is also in the hunt for a postseason bid but is in a much better spot than East Union after edging the Lancers 16-13 two weeks ago. The Timberwolves face winless Weston Ranch.
Manteca, despite its Division IV enrollment, must compete up a level as the reigning SJS Division III champion. The Buffaloes will need some help from Oakdale (4-1, 7-2) to seize a three-way share of the VOL crown. Oakdale welcomes Central Catholic (5-0, 8-1) to The Corral. Manteca split with its fellow perennial powers, opening league with a 35-28 loss at Central Catholic and fending off Oakdale 19-14 two weeks later.
Manteca is No. 3 in Division III, but up to three undefeated Division IV teams can bump the Buffaloes’ seedings down if any of them win their final regular-season games and garner outright championships. Placer, Capital Christian and Merced are within reach of finishing 10-0 and would have to move up since they compete in Division III leagues.
Ripon (4-1, 8-1) doesn’t need outside help to get a piece of the TVL title. Fate is in the hands of the Indians, as they round out league play at undefeated Modesto Christian’s Roy Blakeley Field. They are the top-ranked teams in Divisions V and VI, respectively, according to MaxPreps, and these two teams were part of a tri-championship with Escalon in 2017.
Nearby Ripon Christian will have some interest in what goes down in Salida. That’s because the Knights, who are likely to complete their first perfect regular season against winless Delhi, are going to have to move from Division VII and to VI.
Modesto Christian lost to TVL foe Hilmar in the SJS Division VI title game last year. If the Crusaders beat Ripon, they’ll head to Division V and make things a little easier for Ripon Christian. Unbeaten Colfax may also have to move to Division V, though tradition-rich small schools Escalon and Hilmar remain in Division VI for the Knights to contend with.
Close losses to former VOL rivals Kimball and Sierra prevent Lathrop (3-3, 3-6) from reaching the postseason for just the second time. The Spartans can play spoiler at the end of their inaugural season in the Western Athletic Conference. They’ll head to Mountain House (5-1, 8-1) to kick off the “Battle for the Paddle Old River Rivalry” game.