Help is on the way for East Union and Weston Ranch, and just in time for their Week-9 Valley Oak League tussle at Dino Cunial Field.
East Union (2-3 VOL, 3-5 overall) believes it’s still in the postseason hunt but will need to win out to have a chance. Injury-riddled all season, the Lancers have had three players cleared to join the team for Friday’s game with the Cougars (1-4, 2-6). They’re hoping the trio gives them just the lift they need.
Justin Byrd, a 6-foot, 240-pound junior, is eligible to play the final two weeks of the regular season and bolsters the team’s offensive and defensive lines. Head coach Willie Herrera said he has been practicing with the team and should be ready to start at defensive end.
Tight end Lorenzo Gonzales returns after dislocating an ankle early in the season. Speedy wingback Taariq Davis makes his long-awaited return to action. He hasn’t played a down for more than a year following an ACL injury in Week 5 of 2013.
“I’m excited for Taariq,” Herrera said after last Friday’s 35-21 loss at Sierra. “We’ve needed that home run threat and he’s the guy that has that speed. I know Weston Ranch will have a whole lot of that next week. We’ll see if the knee holds up.”
East Union is coming off a surprising effort against the VOL’s only 8-0 team. The Lancers, though, have been a different team since bringing up seven players from their talented sophomore class. They are 2-2 with 10 total sophomores on the varsity squad, nine of whom have started in recent weeks.
“We looked at it like this, if we’re going to make the playoffs this year we were going to bring them up anyway,” Herrera said. “We’re still hoping to make the playoffs; it just started a little bit early for us.”
The postseason isn’t in the works for Weston Ranch, which was blasted by Central Catholic and Manteca by a combined 91-7 score the past two weeks. But like East Union, the Cougars are reinvigorated by recent additions to the team and future prospects.
Eight players join the fold after having to sit out the first nine weeks of the season to ineligibility, and seven of them are projected to start. Of the seven, four are big-bodied sophomore linemen, and the other three are juniors.
“The coaches can just see the urgency in practice, the (heightened) tempo and the hype,” Davis said. “You can tell it’s more on edge. Everything from the focus and the drive are there. The excitement is there, because we can’t wait to see what this young group of guys brings to the team.”
Most of them bring some much-needed size and depth to the line. Davis said the four sophomores — Marcelous Austin, Jacob Tatupu, Cordillio Pollard and Justin Smith — and junior Xavier Sanchez are, “between 6-2 and 6-4 and 240-plus (pounds).” Quarterback/defensive back Clarence Lewis and WR/DB Zach Sims are also hoping to make an immediate impact.
“Up front we just haven’t had the horses for us to be able to compete,” Davis said. “Just having those guys in the rotation completely changes everything. It opens up our scheme a little bit and makes us so much better.”
The Cougars now have a 42-man roster, the largest they’ve had since starting with 46 players back in 2008. Davis notes that the team’s greatest achievement has been made in the classroom; its overall GPA has risen to 3.1 from 2.1 in 2013.
With the reinforcements in place Weston Ranch has the element of surprise to its advantage. Davis, however, is impressed with what East Union has done in the last four weeks, especially against Sierra. Sophomore quarterback Jack Weaver helped lead the Lancers back from a 21-0 deficit and had opportunities to close the gap even further. East Union had a would-be touchdown catch from Marcus Panelo called off, fumbled an onside kick recovery and Weaver threw an interception inside the Sierra 20. Weaver actually hit his target on the mark, but the ball bounced high off the receiver’s chest and into the hands of Sierra safety Seuseu Alofaituli early in the fourth quarter.
“Their quarterback is phenomenal,” Davis said of Weaver. “Our coaching staff puts him near the top of the league at the position. He’s very poised and runs their offense very well.
“They are very well coached and very well prepared,” Davis added. “They just bring it. Against Sierra they were pretty competitive and it could have been closer than the final score. Their record doesn’t show how competitive a football team they are.”
In other VOL action Friday:
Oakdale (4-1, 7-1) at
Lathrop (1-4, 2-6)
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for Lathrop.
After the Spartans were handed their fourth consecutive defeat by Central Catholic, 55-14, they play host to Oakdale and its vaunted Wing-T offense. Justin Rice needed just six carries to rush for 155 yards and four TDs for Central, and the defense pitched a third shutout in as many weeks. Lathrop scored twice on school-record kickoff returns from Keenan Donatelli and Reggie Carter, who rambled for 98 and 99 yards, respectively, on their runbacks.
Oakdale thumped Kimball 49-2 last week. The Mustangs are just two weeks removed from their only loss of the season at Sierra, 31-20, and will look to keep rolling heading into their anticipated Week-10 showdown with Central Catholic.