Is Sierra for real?
We'll know in about a month when the still-unbeaten Timberwolves are done with a brutal four-game stretch that includes three in enemy territory.
The gauntlet begins this Friday at Central Catholic's David Patton Field, where they are the likely underdog despite records. The injury-ravaged Raiders are 1-4 but have played have faced heavy hitters, such as De La Salle, since the start of the season, while 5-0 Sierra plowed its way through a softer schedule.
Sierra, though, continued to turn heads last week with its 35-0 Valley Oak League-opening thumping of Kimball, which is also much improved with a lot of returning talent. But the Timberwolves’ continued to dominate with their outstanding defense and prolific flexbone offense starring Kimoni Stanley, who has rushed for more than 800 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Sierra is the only Manteca Unified school to have a win over Central Catholic, doing so in 2014 — the Raiders’ first year back in the VOL after spending several decades in lower-division conferences. The defending league champion was in danger of falling to 0-5 last Friday at Manteca’s Guss Schmiedt Field until running back Minaya Olivo scored on a 13-yard catch-and-run with 1:11 to go for a hard-earned 27-26 triumph.
Olivo returned from a concussion to scamper for 110 yards and two TDs on 28 carries. Raiders coach Roger Canepa said Friday that he expects his team to be as close to full strength as it has been all season against Sierra. He has relied on sophomores to fill in at key spots, including both offensive tackle positions, but 6-foot-5, 290-pound Julius Lewis is back from concussion symptoms.
Here's a closer look at other Week 5 contests:
East Union at Kimball: There are massive postseason ramifications between the two 3-2 squads. Both are coming off VOL-opening losses, with Kimball getting shut out at Sierra while the Lancers were dusted in Oakdale, 42-14.
East Union won the 2018 meeting 39-27 but later forfeited for using an ineligible player. The Jaguars return many of their standouts that team, including 6-6, 232-pound Cal commit Kaleo Ballungay, all-league second-team RB Louie Pacheco and speedy receiver Jaxen North.
It gets tougher after this for East Union, as Central Catholic, Sierra and Manteca still loom on the schedule.
Oakdale at Weston Ranch: Two weeks removed from taking a 71-14 shellacking by undefeated Buhach Colony, the Cougars (1-2) kick off their league schedule following their second bye of the season.
There are no breaks the rest of the way, starting with perennial contender Oakdale (1-0, 3-2). The Mustangs buried East Union for 42 unanswered points last week and got longtime head coach Trent Merzon his 200th career victory.
Known for its run-oriented Wing-T, Oakdale went to the air as sophomore QB Jackson Holt hit tight end Peyton Bradford for three touchdowns.
Lathrop at Pacheco: It wasn't pretty, but Lathrop (1-3) held off winless Ceres 36-25 in the Western Athletic Conference opener last week for its first victory of the season.
The young Spartans had sophomores and juniors doing much of the heavy lifting, and they are on the road again to take on defending tri-champion Pacheco (0-1, 1-3). The Panthers were edged by surprising Johansen, 21-20.
Steve Verduzco (352 yards, 8.4 per carry, three TDs) and Dominic Gomez (276 yards, 5.1 per carry) star in the veer offense under first-year coach Jeremy Siemiller.
Ripon at Riverbank: The lightest part of the Indians' schedule comes at the right time.
Already with a thin roster, Ripon had several key players who start at all three phases go down with injuries in its 38-27 loss to Division VI-AA state champion Hilmar.
Winless Riverbank is next on the Trans Valley League slate with the bye week to follow. The 0-5 Bruins were defeated 34-22 last week by Modesto Christian, which was also oh-fer going into the game.
Livingtston (1-0, 4-1), which is proving to be no pushover, awaits on the other side of Ripon's bye.
Denair at Ripon Christian: The CIF Division VII-AA champion Coyotes (1-0, 3-1) are thirsting for revenge after getting crushed by Ripon Christian, 35-7 — their only loss in 2018.
Denair's lone defeat this season came two weeks ago against Soquel, which rallied for 20 unanswered points in the final 7 minutes to pull off a 26-22 stunner. The Coyotes then staved off Le Grand 20-12 to kick off the Southern Athletic League schedule after leading 20-0 at halftime.
Denair's Wing-T offense has experience up front, including All-SAL Offensive Lineman of the Year Carlo Morales, paving the way.