The Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 playoff bracket is likely to be the deepest among all six divisions, maybe second only to D2. Can't argue with that, but that depth doesn't mean we don't already know who is going to win the title.
How anyone beats Central Catholic is the question being asked throughout the section, especially after the debut of the Raiders' new weapon Rey Vega.
He ran roughshod over the Modesto Metro Conference the last two years, but sat out the first six games of 2012 after transferring from Davis. He showed why a D1 running back is such a terror on the D4 level with TDs of 45, 80 and 85 yards the 85-yarder was a kickoff return.
Vega had 3,500 yards and 42 TDs in two years at Davis, despite foes who created gameplans focused solely on him. Like at Davis, he'll also play "D" though coach Roger Canepa has the luxury of limiting his snaps.
Packaged with RB Ray Lomas, WR Nate Loya, and Oregon-bound tight end John Mundt, Vega gives the Raiders four explosive threats who could suit up for a D1 school and provide an instant impact.
With Vega's arrival, this is the deepest and most talented team Canepa has had since arriving in 2008. Depth remains a concern due to a small roster a couple dozen healthy players but that could lead to an interesting decision: Does Canepa go to his JV team during this bye week, promoting two or three kids to be starters or take 20-25 snaps a game? Bringing them up now means three weeks of varsity play before the Raiders open the playoffs it's a risk to bring up JV kids after the last game and toss them into the fire.
Heavily favored the next three weeks, though, CC has the time to ease them in. It also would reduce the two-way work for the seniors. When the playoffs start, Canepa can stick with some sophomores, or return to his current starters.
As good as Los Banos is with its trio of James Sams, Daeton West and Keith Turner, Central beat it by 21 without Vega. CC gets a bye Friday, then has with Livingston, Central Valley and Patterson.
WHAT ABOUT US? Plenty of teams don't believe CC is the best in D4, and the list includes Ripon. The Indians are 7-0 and lead the TVL after rallying for a 35-27 win over Hughson. The Indians didn't play their best four fumbles, a 21-0 lead wasted but the defense saved the day with four interceptions.
Troy Burth returned one for a TD and Lucas Bunting snared one at the goal line with 1:53 to go.
Tanner Duron fueled Hughson's hope for an upset by returning a punt 65 yards for a TD, and he ran 50 yards for a TD that gave the Huskies a 27-21 lead after three.
BULLDOG BITE Le Grand's Ryan Martinez ran for two TDs in the fourth quarter, to separate the Bulldogs from Waterford during a 40-20 win. Mauricio Contreras had tossed three TDs to Angel Ulteres to build a 28-20. Waterford was shut out in the second half.
It's the last challenge Le Grand likely will face until the last night of the regular season, when Ripon Christian (5-1, 3-0) comes to town. RC has a shot because it has the SL's elite player: Andrew Brown had 42 points and 191 yards in a half to top Turlock Christian 42-6.
THE ARROW'S UP Turlock lost its CCC opener to fifth-ranked Merced on a late fourth-quarter TD toss, but Sean Downs made it clear the Bulldogs have plenty of fight. His 298 yards of offense (8 of 18, 130 passing yards, two picks) had the 'Dogs up 14-13 in the fourth.
Turlock forced QB Eli Gutierrez into a 7-for-24 night and held Errol Dennis to 1.9 yards per carry. It's favored Friday versus Golden Valley, a must-win if it hopes to advance.
A TIGER'S TALE Patterson is on the way to the playoffs after its 31-21 victory over Livingston, a win that featured a 22-carry, 205-yard game from Tywayne Adams.
Coach Nick Marchy was thrilled with Damien Paulo (7 of 14, 200 yards, two TDs), a sophomore pulled up from JV last week after Joey Lopes was ruled out for the week. Lopes hurt his shoulder in a Week 5 win at Central Valley, and he might not return this fall.
His status will be evaluated this week, and his return means Paulo becomes a backup; once he plays varsity in league, he has to stay.
"We need to keep winning and our best bet was with Damien versus Livingston," said Marchy, whose Tigers get Los Banos this Friday. "If we need him for Los Banos, at least he has some experience."
THE BEE'S BEST We can get a good argument for No. 1 in The Bee's large-school rankings after the way Buhach Colony handled Pitman 28-7, but it's going to be difficult to dislodge 5-1 Oakdale. It routed Sierra (49-7) and Kimball (56-14) to open league, and Sierra upset Manteca and Kimball upset Sonora Friday so it looks like Oakdale has already beat the best.
Dewayne Finney returned a pick 50 yards to trigger a 42-0 rout of Lathrop on Friday, while Marcus Northcutt ran for two of Oakdale's four second-quarter TDs. Oakdale has Manteca and Sonora the final two weeks of the regular season.
GETTING CLOSER Gustine coach Russ McWilliams is trying to build a program, and nothing does that faster than a few wins. His 'Skins won their first of 2012 in Week 4 and nearly got No. 2 Friday before losing 20-14 to Delhi.
Isaiah Figueroa ran for two TDs and 112 yards, and was 6 of 8 for 63 yards, but the Redskins allowed a second-half lead to slip away.
REALITY CHECK Lincoln of Stockton has paid for its grueling schedule 2-3 and a slow start for USC-bound Justin Davis but the Trojans enjoyed a benefit Friday.
They thrashed Bear Creek 55-0 as Davis, who has an invite to the U.S. Army All-America Bowl, had three TDs in the first quarter. His plan is to graduate in January and play spring ball with USC. ...
Tokay was 5-0 while feasting on soft foes, then opened league at St. Mary's with a 43-0 loss. Tokay was averaging 40 points a game.