Mike Kuhnlenz is coming home for homecoming.
The second-year coach for upstart Kimball (2-1, 5-2 overall) visits Guss Schmiedt Field, his old stomping grounds at Manteca (1-1, 4-2), this Friday for one of two intriguing Valley Oak League contests. Meanwhile, at The Corral, Sierra (1-1, 5-1) tangles with an Oakdale (2-1, 4-3) team rebounding from a rare loss at its home stadium.
All four teams are chasing Central Catholic (3-0, 3-4) in the VOL. East Union (0-3, 3-4), Central's most recent victim, and Trans-Valley League contending Ripon (2-1, 6-1) are in the middle of their much-needed byes as they nurse themselves back to health.
Kuhnlenz is a 2006 Manteca graduate and was part of the Buffaloes' 2005 Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship team. He has Kimball on course for its first-ever postseason appearance after the Jaguars dispatched East Union and Weston Ranch the past two weeks. They are one win above the required four overall wins to make the playoffs but have a tough closing stretch with Oakdale and Central Catholic ahead.
Kimball is led by a strong senior class, including 6-foot-6, 232-pound Cal-bound tight end/defensive end Kaleo Ballungay, and blossoming sophomore quarterback Nicholas Coronado (65.6%, 1,479 yards, 16 TDs, two INTs).
Manteca has never lost to the Jaguars in nine previous meetings. Last week, the Buffaloes celebrated just their second victory at Oakdale in the last 15 years. They trailed 20-0 before Trabron Russell exploded for a school-record seven rushing touchdowns and prevailed, 55-37.
Intracity rival Sierra has also had little success at The Corral over the years. In 2009, the Timberwolves needed a 95-yard interception return and three field goals — including a 50-yard boot — from Anthony Hall to tally their first-ever over win over Oakdale, 44-42. It stands as their only win at The Corral, and they've beaten the Mustangs just once since (2014).
Two of Oakdale's defeats this season have come at home. The other was on Aug. 30 when reigning Division I-A state champion and still unbeaten Liberty of Brentwood — starring Oregon-committed quarterback Jay Butterfield — escaped with a 19-14 victory.
Sierra showed well in its first setback of the season, a 49-36 barnburner at Central Catholic, two weeks ago and is fresh off its bye. The T'wolves, though, will be without slotback/linbebacker Matt Dunham this Friday as he is serving a one-game suspension for his ejection against Central Catholic. The good news for them is standout offensive lineman/middle linebacker Holden Fishburn is good to go after being held out of the Central Catholic game with a knee injury.
In other Week 7 action:
Central Catholic at Weston Ranch: Hammered by injuries and a demanding pre-league schedule during their 0-4 start, the Raiders from Modesto are now healthy and on a roll after beginning VOL play with wins over the three Manteca schools. The latest was the most one-sided, 56-12 at East Union.
While Central Catholic gains strength in numbers, Weston Ranch (0-2, 1-4) is struggling with a small roster as injuries begin take their toll. In the Cougars' 62-0 loss at Kimball last week, QB/DB Atlantis Gholston missed much of the game with an apparent ankle injury before returning late.
Grace Davis at Lathrop: Lathrop (1-2, 1-5) struggled offensively in their 25-6 homecoming loss to Western Athletic Conference co-leading Beyer last week. The ground attack was limited to just 10 yards with running back Isaac Ramos sidelined with injury.
Up next is battle-tested Grace Davis (2-1, 5-1), which edged out Pacheco on the road 22-21 last week. The Spartans of Modesto also have a 20-19 win over Southern Athletic League champion Ripon Christian on its record, with the lone defeat coming at the hands of reigning WAC tri-champion Los Banos, 24-17.
Gustine at Ripon Christian: Speaking of Ripon Christian (3-0, 5-1), the Southern League leader has been on a tear since that season-opening loss to Grace Davis, vanquishing opponents by an average margin of 33.6 points.
It should be more of the same this week as the Knights host Gustine (1-2, 1-5), which has totaled just 21 points in its five defeats. That does not bode well for the Reds, who face a defense that has surrendered only seven points so far in league.
A first-place battle at Mariposa is next for Ripon Christian.