East Union and Ripon will each get to find out a lot about themselves when the two square off tonight at Dino Cunial Field.
Both graduated much of their standouts from last year’s zero-week showdown won by EU, 41-26, which rode the explosive effort from then-senior quarterback Luke Weaver. It’s one of five interesting matchups taking place in the Manteca area on opening night of the 2022 season.
At East Union, second-year coach Mike Kuhnlenz will unleash a new quarterback for his spread offense. Dylan Lee has taken over behind center and is one of the few holdovers from last year’s passing attack. He was one of the most productive wide receivers in the Sac-Joaquin Section and is being recruited by Division I universities as an outside linebacker.
The imposing 6-foot-2, 215-pound Lee leads a potentially-strong ground game alongside hard-charging running back David Flores, but the Lancers have an entirely new set of starting receivers and a young offensive line.
Ripon may have even more question marks on offense with two versatile athletes in Trent Vink and Ty Herrin competing for snaps at quarterback for the Wing-T. The Indians are looking to sophomores Anden Ries and Brett Shaw and juniors Xzavier Clark and Jesus Ochoa to make plays at the other skill positions.
This is just the beginning of a challenging schedule, which raises the stakes for these 2021 postseason qualifiers. East Union went 6-6 and won its first playoff game in 29 years, while Ripon finished 8-5 and reached the SJS Division V semifinals.
Here’s a glance at other zero-week contests in the area:
Vista del Lago (8-4) at Manteca (10-4): The Buffaloes’ youthful secondary gets their first test against a high-flying spread offense.
The Eagles of Folsom lost many of their top offensive weapons to graduation, but return a physical second-year junior wide out in Matt Long (74 receptions, 947 yards, 12 TDs). John Koett now starts at quarterback after serving as the backup to Weber State signee Jakob Hollingshaus. He and Long lead a talented junior class that went 10-0 at the JV last year without them.
Crew Santero anchors VDL’s veteran linebacking corps that is sure to have its sights set on Manteca star RB Blake Nichelson. Second-year junior Brandon Nazworth (6-5, 260) stands out in the trenches for the Eagles.
Vista del Lago advanced to the SJS Division IV semifinals last year, losing to eventual state champion Vanden, 67-27. This is only the second meeting between Manteca and the Eagles. The Buffs held off Vista 39-35 in the SJS Division III quarterfinals en route to winning the 2019 title.
Hughson (7-4) at Sierra (1-9): Coming off a rough reason, Sierra has hit the reset button with coach Jeff Harbison back at the helm.
His Timberwolves face off against one of the Trans-Valley League’s traditional powers. The Huskies leaned on a power running game spearheaded by now-graduated running back Will Nutcher last year but may look to air it out more with sophomore Robert McDaniel and his tall receivers.
Hughson is young this year, bringing up sophomores and juniors who went 7-2 for the JV. Second-year junior Navi Arretche, who stands 6-4 and 297 pounds, anchors the line.
Bradshaw Christian (10-2) at Lathrop (6-4): A wrestling match may break out at Bennie Gatto Field tonight.
It’s a slugfest between two physical Wing-T offenses that did not throw much last season. Lathrop is in its second year in the system, while Pride of Sacramento have done it for a long time under Drew Rickert.
Sophomore fullback Mateo Mojica (669 yards, four TDs) is Bradshaw’s top returning rusher, and he’ll be running behind burly seniors Manny Marin (5-8, 280) and Jackson Takahashi (6-2, 250).
The Pride was the top seed of the SJS Division VI playoffs but upset by league rival Rosemont in the semifinals. The current group lacks depth and experience, however, as 11 of its 19 players are sophomores.
Central Valley Christian (11-5) at Ripon Christian (7-3): RC coach Phil Grams has decided to ease his Knights into the season with one of the top teams out of the Central Section that features one of the most impressive two-way talents in the state.
The Cavaliers (11-5) from Visalia are the CS Division III champions and Division IV-AA state finalists. Earlier this week, their star player, 6-4, 230-pound tight end/defensive end Jaeden Moore, announced his commitment to Oregon.
Moore posted some eye-catching numbers last year, catching 60 passes for 975 yards and 13 touchdowns, while leading CVC’s defense with 155 tackles, 17 ½ sacks, three forced fumbles, three blocked punts and a blocked field goal.
Also returning for CVC are quarterback Max Bakker (2,635 yards, 31 TDs), 6-6, 300-pound lineman Chase Womack and 6-4, 210-pound DE/TE Zach Zwart.