Sierra coach Chris Johnson didn’t go full Jim Mora, but the postseason is the least of his worries this week as his youthful squad prepares to play host to Valley Oak League heavyweight Oakdale (2-1, 5-2 overall) on Friday.
The Timberwolves (1-1, 3-3) are smack in the middle of their most brutal stretch of the season, which started two weeks ago with a 55-7 loss to league-leading Central Catholic (3-0, 6-1). Their bye week followed, and in the next two weeks they face off with cross-town rivals East Union (1-2, 2-5) and Manteca (1-1, 3-3).
“If you look at the VOL from top to bottom, especially with the big three (Central Catholic, Manteca, Oakdale), every week is a good opportunity for our guys to learn through experience competing at this level,” Johnson said.
As for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs, Sierra has a chance to make it after going 2-8 in Johnson’s first season as its coach. Seventy-eight qualify in the SJS, with 23 earning automatic entries by winning league championships. The rest of the field is filled by the highest-ranking squads according to Calpreps ratings, and Sierra is 65th.
Manteca owns the highest Calpreps rating among area teams and is ranked 33rd. Undefeated Ripon and Ripon Christian follow at 34th and 40th, respectively. Idle East Union checks in at 77th, Lathrop is 101st and Weston Ranch 111th.
If the T’wolves can pull off an upset win in their gauntlet run their postseason hopes are greater. They end the regular season at 1-5 Weston Ranch.
“We don’t even talk about it,” Johnson said. “I know I keep saying it, but honestly we’re 0-0 as far as we’re concerned. The only thing that’s on our mind right now is playing a very good Oakdale team on Friday.”
And they’ll do it with a quarterback making his first-ever start. First-year football player Tyler Kiser takes over for Shane Johnson, who suffered a concussion against Central Catholic. Running back/linebacker Matt Dunham, who missed the last three games with an ankle injury, has returned to practice this week but remains questionable.
“Tyler Kiser is making his first high school football start, and what better game to do it than against one of the best in the business,” coach Johnson said. “He’s doing great. He’s a kid who has a great attitude, works hard and asks good questions. He’s really intelligent and is super excited about this game.”
Other games on slate in Week 7:
Manteca at Kimball: The Buffaloes capped off a challenging five-game stretch last week with a 19-14 win over Oakdale, as they overcame four interceptions and a last-minute rally from the Mustangs.
First-year Kimball coach Mike Kuhnlenz welcomes his alma mater Friday. His Jaguars (1-2, 3-4) rolled to a 41-13 win at Weston Ranch to end a three-game skid. Kimball started the season with a 75-12 loss to Tracy and 27-26 win over Lathrop, two teams that Manteca has blown out.
The Jags’ balanced pistol offense is led by QB Mateo Decoite (971 yards, 11 TDs, two interceptions; 265 rushing yards, three TDs), RB Louie Pacheco (674 yards, 14 TDs) and 6-foot-4 WR Kaleo Ballungay (383 yards, five TDs).
Weston Ranch at Central Catholic: Central Catholic has a chance to lick its wounds with its bye coming up.
Front Row Preps reports that TE/DE Nicholas Sani, safety Minaya Olivo and lineman Mikey Duran are sitting out of the Raiders’ final regular-season home game with various injuries. On the other end of the bye are road games at Kimball and the big one at The Corral of Oakdale.
Central Catholic has the depth and talent to make up for the key starters who are sidelined. Weston Ranch has dropped four straight by an average of 40 points.
Lathrop at Grace Davis: The Spartans (2-1 Western Athletic Conference, 2-4 overall) will need to string together some wins to keep their playoff hopes alive.
They return to Modesto after racing away from Beyer 35-7 last week. Grace Davis (0-3, 1-5), also the Spartans, hosts the contest at Modesto Junior College. Davis has been competitive in several of its losses, including a valiant effort in its 61-40 loss to WAC co-leader Pacheco in Week 6.
Lathrop’s pass defense will be tested by a prolific air attack led by Xavier Rodriguez (2,131 yards, 20 TDs, four interceptions). Gregory Smith tops Davis receivers with 668 yards and 11 touchdowns on just 29 catches.
Ripon Christian at Gustine: The path to the Southern League throne has been cleared after Ripon Christian (3-0, 6-0 overall) knocked off three-time defending champion Orestimba 23-17 in dramatic fashion.
The Reds (2-1, 4-2) stand in the way. After that, RC takes on the league’s bottom three teams in Mariposa, Le Grand and Delhi. Gustine took its first SL loss last week 49-14 to Denair, which the Knights previously handled, 35-7.
Ripon Christian’s defense has continued to impress — Orestimba’s 17 points is the most given up in a game this season. Injuries have mounted for RC’s already-thin roster, however.
Quarterback Nolan Lingley is out for the year with a shoulder injury, and Cade Alger, who split time behind center to start the season, injured his left shoulder against Orestimba. Third-stringer Jacob Van Groningen shined in his brief appearance, finishing off the Knights’ winning drive.