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WEEK 10 PREVIEW: Manteca, RC projected as top seeds for postseason
central catholic-manteca football
Manteca linebacker Alijah Cota wraps up Central Catholic quarterback Tyler Wentworth last Friday at Guss Schmiedt Field. - photo by SEAN KAHLER

Ripon Christian has a firm hold on the No. 1 seed in Division VII, while Manteca is trying to ward off to Del Oro to keep the top spot in Division II, according to MaxPreps projections for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.

They’re both locks to qualify for the postseason with at-large berths even, if they were to lose in Week-10 upsets Friday. Manteca (7-1) wraps up Valley Oak League play against

Le Grand-Ripon Christian football
Ripon Christian running back Derek Van Elderen (22) follows the block of Dustin Hoekstra (55) against Ronnie Ramirez (1) and visiting Le Grand on Oct. 7. GARY JENSEN/
traditional rival Oakdale (6-3) at Guss Schmiedt Field, and Ripon Christian (7-2) is a heavy favorite on the road against Delhi (4-5).

Eighty teams in all advance to the SJS playoffs across seven divisions determined by both enrollment and competitive equity. The first six divisions are each 12-team brackets with the top four seeds getting first-round byes. Division VII has eight teams.

Only league champions receive automatic bids, while the rest of the field is made up of 57 at-large teams. Teams must win a minimum of four games to make it. Calpreps/MaxPreps ratings are used to determine at-large qualifiers and help with seeding.

After a 56-49 loss to reigning SJS Division II champion Central Catholic, which is now in Division I, Manteca is clinging to a slim lead in rating — 42.3 to 41.4 — over Del Oro (8-1).

If both win Friday, Del Oro may leapfrog the Buffaloes for the top seed in Division II, because the Golden Eagles from Loomis finish the regular season against an opponent with a much-higher rating than Oakdale’s — Oak Ridge (7-2) is ranked seventh overall in the Section with a 37.3 rating, while Oakdale is No. 30 at 15.1.

Manteca and Del Oro are ranked No. 3 and 4, respectively. Undefeated Downey, currently No. 3 in Division II, may earn consideration for the top spot as the only league champion among the three. Downey is ninth overall in the Section with a 34.0 rating.

Ripon Christian is likely to finish as the runner-up in the Southern Athletic League, but its stronger strength of schedule has given the Knights a ratings boost in Division VII over Sacramento Metro Athletic League-leading Woodland Christian (7-1). RC has a 7.5 rating, while Woodland Christian is at negative 3.5.

Strength of schedule is what helps keep East Union and Ripon in the postseason conversation, even with losing records. Both are 4-5 and considered road underdogs in Week 10 — EU travels to Kimball (5-4) of Tracy to close out the VOL Schedule, while Ripon heads to Hughson (7-2) for its Trans-Valley League finale.

MaxPreps projections has Kimball and East Union slotted at the Nos. 4 and 6 seeds in Division IV. Ripon is ninth in Division V, and Hughson No. 3 in Division VI.

Lathrop is on the outside looking in at with a 5-4 record and probably needs a lot of help to sneak into the Division V bracket. The Spartans’ one-score losses to Pacheco and Los Banos not only knocked them out of the running for at least a share of the Western Athletic Conference crown, but likely the playoffs, as well. They end the regular season at home against Mountain House (5-4) in the “Old River Rivalry.”

Rebuilding Sierra is out at 1-8 and faces reigning VOL champ Central Catholic this week.

Here’s a glance at Week-10 matchups in the area:


East Union (4-5) at Kimball (5-4): East Union coach Mike Kuhnlenz returns to the familiar Don Nicholson Stadium.

He previously coached Kimball for two years but was fired hours before the Jaguars kicked off their abbreviated 2021 spring campaign against Manteca. He reunited with his old team last year, his first with EU, and Kimball narrowly escaped with a 54-53 victory. The Jags own an 8-4 series lead, but five of those wins were by margins of four or less points.

Last week, Kimball earned a second-straight win over VOL heavyweight Oakdale, which led 21-6 after the first quarter but lost 39-34 at The Corral. The Jaguars are well-tested, with competitive losses to consistent contenders such as Tracy and Escalon and notable one-point win over Lincoln of Stockton, which has a 61-22 victory against EU.

Quarterback Jayden McKey has been giving opposing defenses fits with his passing and scrambling abilities. His top targets, Darius Doyle and Travis Marieiro, (54-766-10), are statistically ranked among the top receivers in the SJS.

Running back Sebastian Tate helps provide some balance in Kimball’s prolific spread offense. Linebackers Zachary Macmartin and Noah Reffell anchor the defense along with Marieiro at safety.


Oakdale (7-2) at Manteca (7-1): The Buffs have gained ground in recent years against one of their oldest rivals, winning five of the last six. Oakdale is 53-45-4 against them.

Manteca was without its top two running backs, including Florida State commit Blake Nichelson, in their Week-10 showdown at The Corral last year, and the Mustangs galloped to a resounding 28-0 win. They met again in the SJS Division III championship, and with a healthy Nichelson the Buffaloes avenged the regular-season defeat, 35-28.

Oakdale is trying to avoid a three-game skid heading into the playoffs after coming up short against Kimball last week and against Central Catholic, 35-7, on Oct. 14. MaxPreps’ postseason forecast still has the Mustangs getting a first-round bye and quarterfinal home game as the No. 4 seed in Division III.

It’s a classic smash-mouth matchup between two run-heavy attacks. Oakdale once again has a stable of backs to share the load, and the maestro at quarterback, Mick Merzon, is the son of longtime coach Trent Merzon.


Sierra (1-8) at Central Catholic (5-4): It has been another trying season for Sierra, but the pieces are in place for a promising second year back under coach Jeff Harbison.

The Timberwolves have several second-year varsity juniors, such as workhorse running back Anthony Grady, and they’ll be put to the test against the top team in the VOL in their season finale.

Central Catholic dispatched Manteca for an eighth straight year and is rolling heading into the SJS Division I playoffs. Things look a bit bleaker for the Raiders earlier in the season, but that’s because they dropped four games in a row against parochial giants St. Mary’s (9-0) of Stockton, Saint Francis (5-3) of Mountain View, Serra (8-0) of San Mateo and nationally-recognized power St. John Bosco (8-1) of Bellflower.


Mountain House (5-4) at Lathrop (5-4): The playoffs may be out of reach for these budding rivals, but that has not stopped this Week-10 showdown from producing classics in its short history.

Mountain House has won three of the four all-time meetings and overcame halftime deficits to win the last two. In 2019, both teams were 1-8 when Lathrop pulled out a dramatic 45-39 overtime win.

Like Lathrop, the Mustangs have had close battles against other contending squads in the WAC, losing to both Los Banos and Pacheco by eight and to Ceres by two. The stunning defeat came at the hands of Grace Davis, 23-21, a result they may cost them a postseason berth.

The Spartans are currently in third place with a 4-2 conference record, and Mountain House is sixth at 2-4. Dual-threat quarterback leads Mountain House’s offense, while free safety Cedrick Major Jr. and outside linebacker Orlando Syph head the defense.


Ripon (4-5) at Hughson (7-2): Hughson was handled by Hilmar 49-26 at home last week in what was essentially the TVL championship game. Hilmar should take care of business Friday against winless Riverbank to secure an outright claim to the league crown.

The Huskies have quality wins over SAL champion Orestimba and reigning SJS Division V champion Escalon. Their other setback came against still-undefeated Summerville. Orestimba and Summerville are the projected Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in Division VI.

Hughson is led by super sophomore Robert McDaniel at quarterback, middle linebacker David Burns and receiver/defensive back Larkin Meyer, who is third in the SJS with four interceptions.

Beset by late-season injuries, Ripon had lost three of its last four contest, including a 20-19 heartbreaker to Livingston.


Ripon Christian (7-2) at Delhi (4-5): Delhi has a shot at making the playoffs, according to MaxPreps.

Argonaut, the current 12th and final seed in Division VI, is eliminated with just three wins if it falls to Mira Loma on Friday.

Ripon Christian has a stranglehold on the No. 1 seed in Division VII but doesn’t want to back into the postseason with an unexpected loss.

Alek Fuentes and Julio Morales have accounted for much the Hawks offense, and sophomore middle linebacker Antonio Gutierrez leads the defense.

Ripon Christian is rolling since its 21-7 loss at Orestimba, waxing its next four opponents by an average margin of 34.5 points.