The 2010 regular-season finale between Manteca and East Union serves as a reminder that anything can happen when rivals meet.
Coaching staffs at both schools can draw on that experience this Friday when they tangle for the 52nd time at Manteca High’s Guss Schmiedt Field. The host Buffaloes (4-1, 7-2 overall) may end up with a piece of the Valley Oak League title and are also vying for a favorable postseason seed.
For East Union (1-4, 4-5), it’s a scrap to keep its season alive beyond Friday. The Lancers are feeling confident coming off their most well-rounded effort of the season, a 71-6 thrashing of Weston Ranch, for their fourth overall victory.
Teams must have at least four wins to qualify for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs, which will comprise of 80 teams across seven enrollment- and competitive-based divisions. Only league champions get automatic berths, while the rest of the field is made up of at-large qualifiers based on Calpreps ratings.
East Union stands as the lone bubble team in the Manteca area, but chances of advancing with just four wins are slim, according to projections. The best way to eliminate any doubt is to shock a Buffaloes team that has amassed 55, 84, 73 and 42 points in its last four wins.
The 2010 Lancers team was in a similar predicament, needing to beat then-undefeated Manteca to end a decades-long postseason drought. East Union prevailed 10-7 in the biggest upset between city rivals in recent history.
Manteca has won all eight of the match-ups since, extending its series lead to 38-13-1. The Buffs lost their league opener to Central Catholic 27-26 but capture co-championship if Oakdale (4-1, 6-3) beats the Raiders (5-0, 5-4) on Friday. That would, however, bump Manteca up to the more-competitive Division III bracket from Division IV, where it is currently positioned for a top-two seed and first-round bye.
Also in Week 10:
Weston Ranch at Sierra: The Timberwolves (2-3 VOL, 6-3 overall) are a virtual lock for a second straight at-large postseason berth under third-year coach Chris Johnson, who said there are things to clean up following their 42-12 loss to Manteca.
Sierra has dropped three of its last four, as turnovers killed its chances against the VOL’s Big 3 while penalties marred an otherwise one-sided 34-7 win over East Union.
Weston Ranch (0-5, 1-7) has made it to the finish line despite low numbers and injuries. Junior RB Aaron Vickers has been a bright spot for the Cougars.
Mountain House at Lathrop: There is little at stake in the second “Battle for the Paddle,” which pits two one-win teams in the Western Athletic Conference, but for Lathrop coach Joe Pirillo it’s one last opportunity to evaluate his young talent for next season.
Injuries, namely to standout junior RB Isaac Ramos, and youth have hampered the Spartans. Mountain House has also struggled since finishing a program-best 10-2 last year along with a tri-championship. The Mustangs’ lone win came last week at Ceres, 50-35. Lathrop beat the Bulldogs 36-25 in the WAC opener.
Modesto Christian at Ripon: Shorthanded Modesto Christian (1-4, 1-8) goes into its season finale with the Trans Valley League co-leading Indians (4-1, 8-1) well rested following a bye and forfeit loss to Hilmar on Oct. 18.
Ripon, which has had its own struggles with injuries and low numbers, can garner a share of its third straight league crown if it takes care of business. Escalon and Hilmar are also heavy favorites Friday, and if all three win as expected the Indians once again make the jump to Division V with a likely first-round bye.
Ripon Christian at Delhi: A possible Ripon-Ripon Christian reunion on the gridiron has been dashed with Ripon expected to move up to Division V.
Ripon Christian (6-0, 8-1) closes the regular season with a winless team, so a second straight outright Southern League title and bump up to the Division VI bracket are a slam dunk. The Knights are focused on making it back to the D6 title game, where they were trounced by Hilmar last season.
Escalon and Hilmar are projected to have the top two seeds in the bracket, with RC possibly in the third spot.