The top two players in the Manteca area will square off Friday at East Union’s Dino Cunial Field, where the Lancers and do-it-all quarterback Dylan Lee await bitter rival Manteca and Florida State commit Blake Nichelson.
The Buffaloes (2-0 Valley Oak League, 6-0 overall) have arguably their biggest challenges of the regular season coming the next two weeks but are unlikely overlooking East Union (0-2, 3-4), which nearly stunned them on homecoming last year. It took an uncanny two-way effort from Nichelson to avoid the upset, as his pick-six capped a 40-34 comeback win in overtime.
Manteca leads the all-time series 40-13-1 and has won 10 straight since the Lancers pulled off a 10-7 upset in 2010. It’s East Union’s lone win against the Buffs in this millennium.
The Buffaloes have stampeded through their competition by an average margin of 41.8 points and shellacked Sierra 68-0 in their latest conquest.
East Union had dropped three in a row and is fighting for a postseason berth the final three weeks of the season. The Lancers gave Oakdale (2-0, 6-1) some trouble last week before ultimately falling to the Mustangs, 35-21, for the 29th consecutive time. The score was tied 21-21 early in the fourth quarter.
Lee lined up as quarterback (13-of-20 passing, 132 yards), running back (eight rushes, 48 yards) and receiver (nine receptions, 83 yards, touchdowns) while take turns with first-year senior A.J. Vasquez (16-of-26, 144 yards, two TDs) behind center.
Lee also got play a lot on defense at linebacker, likely his full-time position at the next level. He has earned a three-star rating at the position and holds offers from Columbia, San Diego State and San Jose State.
Lee and Nichelson’s paths are likely to cross repeatedly, given their versatility on both sides of scrimmage. Nichelson needed just one quarter against Sierra score three touchdowns — one rushing, another on a pass play and one on special teams. He’s a four-star rated linebacker who fills different roles for Manteca’s defense, as well, from edge rusher to cover cornerback.
Ranked 35th in the state by Cal-Hi Sports, Manteca closes league play the next two weeks at home against defending champion Central Catholic and historic rival Oakdale.
East Union plays its final two on the road against Sierra and Kimball.
A glance at other Week 8 contests:
Kimball (3-4) at Sierra (1-6): Both teams go into this battle of spread offenses with 0-2 records in the VOL.
Kimball played Manteca and Central Catholic tough for a half before the two juggernauts rolled to blowout victories. Sierra lost in blowouts to Oakdale and Manteca.
The Jaguars of Tracy have a quality win over Lincoln with close non-league defeats to 6-1 Tracy and 4-3 Escalon, the reigning Sac-Joaquin Section Division V champion. A positive result at Sierra gives Kimball its requisite fourth win to qualify for the playoffs as an at-large entry.
Quarterback Jayden McKey conducts Kimball’s prolific air attack (77-of-128, 1,102 yards, 15 TDs, four picks) but is also a threat on the run (39 rushes, 263 yards, two TDs). His top targets are Darius Doyle (34 receptions, 631 yards, 11 TDs) and Travis Marieiro (37-466-7).
Lathrop (4-3) at Johansen (0-7): The Spartans face a school from Modesto for a third straight week, and they have an opportunity to come out with a third straight victory.
They’re coming off a needed 33-12 win over reigning Western Athletic Conference champion Grace Davis. Lathrop is currently on the outside looking in for the postseason and may need to win out and garner a piece of the conference title to qualify. The Spartans close the regular season with tough home games against first-place Los Banos and rival Mountain House.
Johansen may be winless, but most of its defeats were by two scores or less against teams contending for postseason spots. The Vikings’ run-based attack out of the I-formation features two physical junior backs in Chad Conley (101 carries, 581 yards) and Aeric Amerel (78-470).
Ripon Christian (5-2) at Mariposa (6-1): One of these teams will remain a game back of Southern Athletic League leader Orestimba, which has already beaten both.
Ripon Christian was done in by two big passing plays in its 21-7 loss in Newman, while Mariposa was pummeled 49-0 at home.
The Grizzlies hope to take advantage of home-field advantage this Friday against a Ripon Christian team that appears to finding its form. They’re led by 6-foot-4 Johann Hill-Zeck, who splits time at receiver (515 yards, seven TDs), fullback and safety.
Apollos Powell and Ty Holt are other two-way standouts for Mariposa. Both play running back and linebacker. Powell is the Grizzlies’ leading rusher with 410 yards and three TDs while compiling a team-high 5.5 sacks on defense. Holt leads the defense with 83 tackles.