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Manteca, EU aim to avenge 2013 losses
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Justin Bygum of East Union pressures Grace Davis quarterback Zach Magana in the 2013 season opener for both teams back on Aug. 30. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

Manteca and East Union are out for revenge, while Lathrop’s second-year head coach returns to his hometown to lead the Spartans onto familiar grounds.

The season kicks off tonight for five Manteca-area schools. Sierra heads to Ripon in tonight’s featured event that reunites two programs that have risen to prominence since their last encounter seven years ago. Ripon Christian and Weston Ranch are idle for zero week.

The spotlight was supposed to shine brightest at Levi’s Stadium where Manteca was originally slated to have its rematch with Wilcox of Santa Clara, which escaped Buffalo territory with a thrilling 28-27 overtime victory last year. It was Manteca’s only regular-season loss.

To give the venue’s resurfaced field more time to take root, the San Francisco 49ers chose to postpone the Levi’s Stadium Friday Night Lights event for Oct. 10 and 11. Round 2 is instead set to take place at Wilcox High.

“Manteca is the type of team that they’d play us in a parking lot,” Wilcox head coach Dan Brown recently told the San Jose Mercury News. “We’re the same type of the team, too.”

Many of the principal characters from last season’s classic have graduated for both teams. Wilcox’s impressive thunder-and-lightning combo of Sione Finefeuiaki (896 yards, 9.3 per carry, 10 touchdowns) and Delshawn Mitchell (1,747 yards, 13.7 ypc, 18 TDs) are no longer in the backfield. Neither is dual-threat QB Kenny Dipko (804 yards, 10 TDs passing; 660, 11 rushing). Six-foot-2, 275-pound center/nose tackle Jimmy Leatiota helped pave the way for the Chargers to stomp their way to 370 rushing yards against Manteca’s stout defense.

Wilcox expects to be as big and bad as it was last year in the trenches. Offensive lineman/inside linebacker Jonathan Pohahau (6-1, 240) leads a powerful group that includes returning seniors Jonathan Herrera (6-3, 285) and Jacob Kenney (6-2, 235) as well as sophomore tackle Noah Wright (6-4, 250). They will provide Manteca’s untested linemen a good first challenge out the gate.

Wilcox is coming off a 9-2 season in which it earned a piece of the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza League title and a selection to the Central Coast Section Open Division playoffs.

Zach attack

East Union heads to Modesto Junior College with hopes of avenging its 2013 season-opening loss to Grace Davis. The Spartans visited Dino Cunial Field and prevailed 26-13 while on their way to a 2-7-1 mark.

Leading the charge was QB Zach Magana (15-26, 295 yards, 3 TDs, rushing TD), who had a hand in all of Davis’ touchdowns. The senior’s top receiver, McKylby Kao, is gone, but the team’s leading rusher, Jasiah Millhouse, returns to run behind big tackle Zack Davis (6-3, 240). Magana does have a promising target in 6-4, 200-pound Talolo Limu-Jones.

East Union counters with its run-first wing offense to create a classic matchup of clashing styles. Making their varsity debuts are a pair of sophomores: QB Jack Weaver and RB Angel Sena.

Back with the Pack

Steven Wichman returns to his old stomping grounds tonight but as the head coach of the opposing team. The Tracy native leads Lathrop into battle with West, his alma mater. Wichman was a three-sport standout while a member of the Wolf Pack and played baseball for Steve Anastasio, then the varsity baseball coach.

Just two years ago, Anastasio was varsity football head coach at Kimball with Wichman serving has his top freshman coach. Anastasio is now back with West leading varsity football squad.

Both West and Lathrop are looking improve on disappointing one-win campaigns. The West team was made up mostly of juniors and lacked the depth to keep up with other Division I programs. Some big-bodied seniors return, including All-Tri-City Athletic League first-team FB/LB Lau Aleilefaleula (5-8, 260), All-TCAL second-team selections Austin Torma (TE, 6-2, 220) and Ryan Herrera (DL, 6-2, 240).