East Union felt unstoppable at this point last season.
Then the Lancers were taken down a peg. And then another. And another.
After starting 3-0, they went on to extend their winless streak in the loaded Valley Oak League to 10. The 2015 slide began with a 35-0 loss on Lathrop’s homecoming night.
Here they are again, sporting a perfect record going into Friday’s VOL opener with Lathrop. This time it’s East Union’s homecoming on a day that the school is also celebrating its 50th anniversary.
This time, East Union coach Willie Herrera says, the team is better prepared for the challenges to come. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. at Dino Cunial Field. The Lancers hold a 5-2 advantage over their Manteca Unified rival.
“They’ve been on that boat already,” Herrera said. “We’ve been in that situation where we’re 3-0 going into our game with Lathrop. They ended up taking it to us on their homecoming and that just set the tone for the rest of the year.
“Having players who have been through that, they know what that reality feels like. They sure don’t want it again for this year.”
East Union waxed West of Tracy 49-14 last week — a far more impressive result than Lathrop’s 21-14 zero-week triumph over the Wolf Pack. Lathrop (1-2), though, is a different team than it was just a month ago. On Sept. 2, the Spartans were a play away from beating small-school powerhouse Hilmar in a 16-14 loss.
And last week they gave undefeated Franklin of Elk Grove a run for its money in a 38-32 defeat. Lathrop junior quarterback Keonnee Linnell had his best game of the season, throwing for 248 yards and four touchdowns.
“They’re good,” Herrera said. “I’m very impressed with them. They’re well coached and they fly to the ball defensively. Offensively, they’ve progressed exponentially in their last two games. Their quarterback has gotten better each week. That is definitely a team we have to limit mistakes against.”
Lathrop is sure to be East Union’s best opponent so far this season after the Lancers routed three opponents with a combined 1-11 record, but Herrera likes his team’s week-to-week improvement. Third-year quarterback Jack Weaver (20 of 33, 364 yards, five TDs), who is also East Union’s top rusher (245 yards, four TDs), is the centerpiece of a balanced and versatile attack.
“We’ve gotten better each week,” Herrera said. “Only time will tell how good we really are — the VOL will tell. We’re very confident in our guys. The leadership is strong, and that negative experience from last year is one of the things you learn from.”
In other Week 4 action:
Manteca (3-0) at
Ranked 11th on the Cal-High Sports Sac-Joaquin Section Top 25, Manteca kicks off league play with a team it has yet to lose to. The Buffaloes blasted their nonleague competition by a combined 159-19 score.
Kimball’s lone win came against cross-town rival West 27-14 in Week 1. Ryan Rivera, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound running back, is sure to be a focal point for Manteca’s punishing defense. Rivera has rushed for 532 yards and six touchdowns.
Oakdale (2-1) at Sierra (3-0)
The reigning CIF State Division IV-A champion Timberwolves have a tough task to begin league.
Oakdale, which Sierra has only beaten twice in the last two decades, appears to have gained traction after dropping its season opener to century-long rival Sonora, 27-13. The Mustangs are coming off an impressive 28-21 road win over Campolindo, a perennial power in the North Coast Section.
Central Catholic (1-2) at Weston Ranch (3-0)
Weston Ranch can prove Friday if it’s for real. The Cougars have their best collection of size and talent since the 2005 co-championship team, but they have yet been tested.
They’ll have their hands full against the four-time defending CIF State Small-Schools champion. Central Catholic should be plenty motivated following back-to-back losses, including a 49-0 blowout against Holy Bowl rival St. Mary’s. The Raiders sat 19 players for the first half of that shellacking.
Orestimba (2-1) at
Ripon Christian (1-2)
Ripon Christian is battle tested going up against the defending Southern League champion. The Knights have lost two straight against the 2015 CIF Northern California Regional Division VI-AA Bowl Game participants.
Orestimba, meanwhile, has two in a row following a 36-0 loss to undefeated Mendota.
Ripon (2-2) at Sutter (3-0)
The Indians split their first two meetings with the defending Northern Section Division III champion.
Sutter wants to avenge its 2015 loss at Ripon and is on a roll after starting the season with a 52-31 win over Salinas-based juggernaut Palma. Ripon is two weeks removed from a 69-7 beatdown administered by Sonora but aims to go into its bye week and Trans-Valley League schedule with a strong effort on the road.