It's been a while since we've seen this kind of defense played in the Stanislaus District. The region has been making its name on offense the past few years, featuring breakaway runners and explosive passers. That's led to games that feature both teams scoring 40 or more, and several games with a team scoring 60 or more.
No surprise Atwater was one of those turning to defense. It made news early this fall in a 7-6 loss to Clovis and Clovis is now 7-1. It remains the best defensive effort we've seen in the district in 2012.
Second-best? It might have come Friday, from the same unit, and it secured Atwater's playoff berth with a 21-14 OT win over Turlock. Trevor Coleman had three of the Falcons' eight sacks, and Turlock managed just five first downs.
Turlock got the ball at the 10 to open overtime, and was still there three plays later before missing a field goal. Atwater won it on JoJo Ochoa's 8-yard run moments later.
The Bulldogs average 28 points, but their TDs were due to defense and special teams: Jevan Hogan returned a pick 100 yards, and Cameron Matsumura's 54-yard kick return set up the other. ...
Los Banos' defense delivered, as well, blanking Central Valley 29-0 in a showdown between two of the district's 1,000-yard backs. Central Valley's Ja'Quan Gardner ran for 134, but did not hit the end zone he has run for 1,261 yards, but has not scored in the last two games.
LB's James Sams (1,276 yards) ran for 66 yards in limited action after twisting his ankle in Week 7, but the Tigers showed they have plenty of playmakers with Daeton West catching balls and Delvonte Moore scoring on a 97-yard run.
That came two plays after LB stuffed Gardner on fourth down at the 1. CV's lost three in a row and its once-promising playoff hopes require a win at Central Catholic on Friday. CC is rolling, with 201 points in its last three games. ...
Downey hushed the Sac-Joaquin Section's No. 2 rushing offense in Thursday's shockingly easy 45-14 blowout of Enochs in the Modesto Metro Conference title showdown, The Eagles were running for 348 yards a game, but had just 126 on 27 runs and lost three fumbles.
Downey also picked off a pass in the end zone and led 38-7 at half. Almost overlooked was a 30-carry, 180-yard game by Juan Vaa-Ayala that's his fourth 100-yard game.
SL DÉJÀ VU It looks as if Le Grand will be the SL champ after Waterford routed Ripon Christian 49-7 behind Dylan Gonzalez (202 rushing yards). Waterford and RC are each 4-1 in league, Le Grand is 5-0 and plays RC in Week 10.
You do the math: Le Grand beat Waterford 40-20 a few weeks ago, and Waterford beats RC by 42. All three are in the playoffs, but RC must hope it lands in Division 6 because its league rivals will be in D5. RC lacks the depth and size for D5, but it's comparable to D6, where the section's smallest schools will play.
FOOTHILL FIGHT The MLL title will be decided, and possibly Ripon's bid for the top seed in D4, as Argonaut (8-0) hosts Calaveras (7-1) Friday. Zack Johnson's three TDs led Calaveras to a 42-28 win over Summerville in a battle of 6-1 teams, and Joe Elliot's 88-yard TD return of a pick turned the tide.
Ripon (9-0) and Argonaut are jockeying for No. 1, and if both go 10-0 the tiebreaker is opponents' wins. Argonaut has that in hand: Its foes have 42 wins, and Ripon (37) won't be able to catch up.
Why is that a concern? Central Catholic (6-2) is expected to win the WAC, and that should earn it the No. 3 seed based on strength of schedule and its league crown. CC is the team to beat in the division, so long as Placer (8-0) stays in D3.
Look for Los Banos (7-1) to get a No. 4 seed. The section will get the WAC powers in opposite brackets.
Where does Escalon (6-2) fit? Its foes have 51 wins, second in D4 to CC (54), and an 8-2 record should put it No. 6. If it happens, look for Escalon at CC in a quarterfinal.
57 WERE FLAWLESS There were 57 perfect teams in the state going into Week 8. Argonaut and Ripon are the district's unbeatens.
Ripon, with Orestimba (5-3) left on the schedule, is shooting for its first perfect season since 1957. The team had Doug Hall at QB says former Indian Brian VanderBeek and Hall returned to coach the school's first playoff team in 1976.
Ripon topped Riverbank 41-19 on Friday, but not before the Bruins' Angel Torres put on a show. He threw for 274 yards and two TDs, while running for 60 more yards.
"People can say what they want about Riverbank's record, but Coach (Jimmy) Oliver is doing some good things," Ripon coach Chris Johnson said. "Those kids play hard regardless of what the scoreboard says. Our hats go off to those Riverbank kids."
BIG-GAME BACK Hughson's Tanner Duron had a career-high 260 yards in Week 7, then had a 271-yard outing in Friday's 30-28 loss to MC. The junior has four 200-yard games, and 1,447 yards and 22 TDs. He has 531 yards on 64 carries the last two weeks.
Duron's not the only workhorse: Sierra's Anthony Cota carried 36 times for 332 yards and four TDs in a 47-42 thriller over Sonora. He has 1,518 yards and 31 TDs and Sierra has needs every TD. It has scored 140 points the last three weeks, but has surrendered 113.
Sierra's lone loss is to Oakdale, a 49-7 rout, and the Wolves must keeping to assure themselves of a home playoff opener. Oakdale, which got two TDs apiece from Marcus Northcutt and Nikk Ryan in a 64-0 rout of Weston Ranch, is in line to get the No. 2 seed in D3 or No. 1, if Placer falls to D4.
PLAYING FOR PRIDE Davis won't be going to the playoffs, but the Spartans looked like a playoff team in the closing moments of a 27-21 win over Modesto. On the Modesto 30, Matt Christian flicked a screen pass to Ryan Rushing to start the hook-and-lateral play.
Rushing pitched to Monte Jones, who crossed the goal line with zeroes on the clock. Roy Johns had burst through the middle to block a punt with 2 minutes left to set up Davis' score there were 3 seconds left before the final play.
"One of the most exciting ends to a football game I've ever been associated with," said coach Chris Cloward, whose Spartans tied it at 21 in the final quarter on Jordan Taylor's two-point conversion.
PLAYOFF-BOUND There are 14 district teams that have locked up playoff berths: Downey, BC, Atwater, Oakdale, Sierra, CC, LB, Patterson, Ripon, Escalon, Hilmar, RC, Le Grand and Waterford. Another half-dozen or so should clinch playoff berths next week.
KNIGHT LIGHTS Downey High hosts it annual Knight Under the Lights Wednesday night: It earned the inaugural Community Service Award from the section last year. Varsity players organize it for boys and girls, kindergarten through sixth grade, and the fun includes red rover, kickball, a bounce house and other games. Every kid gets a game program and players move among them to give autographs.
The first 100 to register for the 90-minute program get a shirt and there is no cost to participate. It starts at 6 and registration is at 5:30. Coach Jeremy Plaa says his Knights are anxious to smash the century mark in participation.