The Sac-Joaquin Section indicated at the start of the season that more emphasis would be placed on strength of schedule in seeding playoff brackets.
Manteca head coach Eric Reis is thankful for it.
His team is one of four from the Valley Oak League to receive top-four seeds. VOL co-champions Sierra and Oakdale are No. 2 and 3, respectively, in the competitive Division III bracket. Central Catholic gets the top seed in Division IV despite having three losses — albeit to top teams (Sierra, Oakdale, St. Mary’s).
Fourth-place Manteca (8-2), meanwhile, has a chance to host at least two home games as the No. 4 seed in Division III.
“We’re very pleased with it,” Reis said. “We felt like we played a challenging schedule and the section obviously took our body of work into consideration. We’re also honored that the section thought that much of the league.”
Several conference champions, such as 10-0 El Dorado and perennial power Placer, are seeded lower than Manteca, which may have also benefitted by being the defending section champion in the division.
After a 3-0 start, the Buffaloes had a tough three-game stretch to open the VOL schedule with losses to Central Catholic (29-28 in overtime) and Oakdale (42-21) sandwiching and an unimpressive 14-12 win over 2-8 Lathrop. They’ve been on a roll since and likely secured their top-four seeding with a 34-20 upset of then-unbeaten cross-town rival Sierra on Halloween.
There are familiar names on Manteca’s side of the bracket, starting with No. 13 Vanden (6-4). It was the Vikings who shocked then-No. 1 seeded Manteca 55-22 in the opening round of the 2010 playoffs.
Other potential rematches of recent postseason contests are ahead for the Buffs if they get past Vanden. They could meet No. 5 Sacramento (8-2) in the second round for what would be a rematch of Division III finalists, and No. 1 Inderkum (9-1) looms in the semifinals. Sacramento faces Christian Brothers (8-2) in a showdown of capitol-city schools who squared off in the semifinals last season. Manteca and Inderkum have squared off twice in the last two years and split the postseason contests.
“Funny how that worked out,” Reis said. “We’ve seen Vanden and Inderkum a few times over the years. We got to see the Sacramento-Christian Brothers (semifinal) game in person last year and may do so again this Saturday.”
Sierra (9-1) starts out with No. 15 Rosemont (6-4), a team it previously knocked off 28-8 in the first round of the 2012 playoffs. The Timberwolves are heavy favorites to advance but are on the tougher side of the bracket. Seventh-seeded Placer (8-2) and No. 10 Rio Linda (8-2), which was on the bubble to qualify as a Division II team, are the potential quarterfinal opponents for Sierra.
Oakdale, coming off a 48-28 win over Central Catholic, has an interesting first-round pairing with Western Athletic Conference runner-up Pacheco (7-3) of Los Banos. The victor there encounters Capital Athletic League titlist Vista del Lago (7-3) or Solano County Athletic Conference co-champ American Canyon (7-3).
Oakdale had a solid case for a top-two seed with impressive victories over Central Catholic and Manteca, but Sierra has the head-to-head advantage by beating the Mustangs, 31-20. If the two are to meet again, it would be in the semifinals back at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium on Nov. 28.
Ripon Christian is No. 5 in the eight-team Division VI bracket and heads to Garden Valley to challenge Golden Sierra (8-2), the runner-up from the Sierra Delta League.
This may come as a surprise to some who believed the Knights deserved at least the fourth seed. They ended the regular season with a three-game winning streak that includes an impressive 26-0 shutout of Southern League co-champ Mariposa.
“We can’t control who we play and where we end up bracket-wise,” Ripon Christian coach Trey Ozenbaugh said after Friday’s 22-13 victory over Delhi. “We have higher-division teams coming down to play in Division VI but we can’t control that. We just want to continue to ride the wave as long as we can.”
The heavy hitters in this bracket are No. 1 Capital Christian, one of just four unbeaten teams in the section, and No. 2 Modesto Christian (9-1). Capital edged MC 23-22 back on Sept. 5 and the two are expected to clash again in the finals.