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WEEK 9 PREVIEW: TVL title on line when Ripon, Escalon meet Friday
Bulletin sports fall 2021
Caleb Johnston carries the ball for Ripon during its Trans-Valley League showdown with Hilmar on Sept. 24. Photo by ALEX BANKS/The Bulletin



                                    league  overall

Central Catholic         4-0       7-1

Manteca                       3-1       7-1

Kimball                        3-1       7-1

Oakdale                        2-2       5-2

East Union                   2-2       5-3

Sierra                             1-4       1-8

Weston Ranch              0-5       1-8


Friday’s games

Central Catholic at East Union

Kimball at Manteca

Oakdale at Weston Ranch

Sierra bye



                                    league  overall

Ripon                           4-0       6-2

Escalon                        4-0       7-1

Hilmar                          2-2       6-2

Livingston                    2-2       5-3

Hughson                      2-3       6-3

Modesto Christian        1-4       1-6

Riverbank                     0-4       0-7


Friday’s games

Ripon at Escalon

Modesto Christian at Hilmar

Riverbank at Livingston

Hughson bye



                                    league  overall

Grace Davis                  5-0       8-0

Lathrop                        3-1       5-2

Los Banos                    3-1       3-4

Ceres                            3-2       5-3

Mountain House           3-2       3-5

Pacheco                        1-4       2-6

Johansen                      0-3       1-6

Beyer                           0-5       0-8


Friday’s games

Lathrop at Los Banos

Grace Davis at Johansen

Pacheco at Beyer

Ceres at Mountain House



                                    league  overall

Waterford                     5-0       8-0

Le Grand                      3-2       4-4

Mariposa                      3-2       4-4

Gustine                        3-2       3-4

Ripon Christian            2-2       5-3

Orestimba                     2-3       4-4

Delhi                            1-4       3-4

Denair                          0-4       0-6


Friday’s games

Ripon Christian at Gustine

Mariposa at Waterford

Le Grand at Delhi

Denair at Orestimba


With rain in the forecast, a softer and sloppier Engel Field could be an advantage for visiting Ripon in its colossal clash at Escalon on Friday.

The Indians, after all, have had to rely more on their methodical run game and defense this year season.

Then again …

“Anytime you go to Engel Field, it’s an Escalon advantage,” Ripon coach Chris Musseman said.

No matter where the game is played or the weather conditions, there is almost always something on the line when these longtime Trans-Valley League rivals face off. In this case, the winner is guaranteed at least a piece of the league championship and a spot in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoffs. The loser likely gets placed in Division VI because of enrollment.

Escalon (7-1) and Ripon (6-2) are both 4-0 in league with Hilmar (6-2) and Livingston (5-3) two games back with two to go. Hilmar was part of a three-way split of the TVL crown in 2019 with Escalon and Ripon, which went on to win SJS and California Interscholastic Federation state titles.

Escalon edged out the Indians 10-7 during the pandemic-shortened spring season, but Ripon has won six of the last nine in this rivalry series that had previously been dominated by the Cougars for nearly two full decades.

“Every time there is an Escalon-Ripon game it’s a big deal, and this year is no different,” Musseman said.

Ripon has been on a tear, winning six straight since dropping its first two games of the season to East Union and Sonora. The defense has been a big reason for the Indians’ successful run, giving up a total of 10 points in low-scoring wins over Hilmar and Livingston.

Escalon’s lone loss was a 54-14 blowout by Kimball, a once-beaten team that boasts the most explosive spread offense in the Section. The Cougars won their next four, two of them competitive clashes with Hughson and Hilmar.

The senior-heavy Indians may have the edge in experience, but Escalon’s young talent is battle tested. The Cougars’ hybrid Wing-T is steered by 6-foot-2 sophomore Donovan Rozevink with a stable of juniors such as 6-3 receiver Owen Nash at the skill positions. The defense features sophomore linebacker Caden Gonsalves and freshman defensive end Ryan Lewis, who leads the team in tackles (66) and sacks (7.0), respectively.

“It’s a very talented group that is a bit young, but that doesn’t show at this point in the season — youth isn’t an issue (for Escalon),” Musseman said. “It’s typical Escalon, they execute really well, play hard and play aggressive. It’s going to be a big challenge for us.”

And there are challenges to come for both teams regardless of the outcome. They’re closing the regular season next week against teams looking to improve their positions for the playoffs, as Ripon hosts Hughson while Escalon welcomes Livingston.

“League (championship) won’t be decided until the final week,” Musseman said. “It’s big because of the rivalry and there is something in the end for the winner, but it can’t be the end-all, be-all. We can’t look at it that way, because hopefully there will be other big games to play.”

In other Week 9 contests:


Central Catholic (7-1) at East Union (5-3): The Lancers look to have an at-large berth in hand, but winning either of their last two at home would be a boost heading into the postseason.

But before their anticipated showdown of potent spread offenses with Kimball next week, they must first take on the third-ranked team in the SJS. Valley Oak League-leading Central Catholic climbed a few rungs in the MaxPreps computer rankings after its comfortable 56-33 triumph over Manteca last week.

The Raiders counter East Union’s prolific pass attack with a punishing run game led by a massive line and interchangeable running backs Julian Lopez and Aiden Taylor. The last time Central saw a spread offense was two weeks ago — a 55-16 throttling of Kimball.


Kimball (7-1) at Manteca (7-1): The VOL title may be out of reach for Manteca, but there is still much to play for.

The Buffaloes are projected to hold the top seed for the SJS Division III playoffs, but in the way are dangerous Kimball — which could be the No. 1 seed in D-IV — and perennial powerhouse Oakdale.

Manteca switches gears defensively as it goes from Central Catholic’s run-heavy I-formation to Kimball’s high-flying spread spearheaded by third-year QB Nicholas Coronado, the leading passer in the state (according to MaxPreps) with 2,821 yards and 36 touchdowns against four interceptions.

The Buffs have their own state leader in Blake Nichelson, who tops the scoring list with 200 points (30 TDs, nine two-point conversions, safety).


Oakdale (5-2) at Weston Ranch (1-8): With a Week-10 bye ahead, Weston Ranch ends its season Friday against a team it has beaten just once (2005) in 16 tries.

After back-to-back losses to Kimball and Central Catholic, Oakdale can still be a factor in the playoffs and gets Manteca at home next week.

For Weston Ranch, the season finale is a continuation of the rebuilding project under second-year head coach Ron Wayman. Although they may not have the wins to show for it, the youthful Cougars have bought into the culture change and show promise with only six seniors on their way out.


Lathrop (5-2) at Los Banos (3-4): It’s a must-win for both teams’ postseason chances.

Lathrop is fresh off an unintended bye as its last game was cancelled by Week-8 opponent Johansen because of COVID-19 protocols, but it was a chance for the Spartans to heal up following their physical battle with undefeated Grace Davis.

Lathrop is 0-3 all-time against Los Banos — they first met in the first-round of the 2015 SJS Division IV playoffs when the top-seeded Spartans were upset 30-29, and the next two were blowouts favoring the Tigers in Western Athletic Conference play.

Los Banos has a deceptive record, as two of its losses were competitive against unbeaten Dos Palos and Grace Davis. The other defeats were to Hilmar and Orestimba, powerhouses out of the TVL and Southern Athletic League, respectively.


Ripon Christian (5-3) at Gustine (3-4): The Knights may very well be playing their final two games of the season because of a two-year playoff ban levied by the SJS.

They can play spoiler on the road Friday against a team that may likely need to win its final two to qualify. Gustine kept its hopes alive last week by notching a stunning 31-28 double-overtime win at Le Grand, which had just beaten Ripon Christian, 48-28.

The Reds are under new, yet old, leadership as former head coach Ronnie Labry returned to the program last week after Paul Nocito was dismissed.