The Sac-Joaquin Section football playoffs kick off this weekend, with 26 Stanislaus District teams spread across the six divisions. We'll take a look at the small-school divisions today, and Friday we'll break down the large schools:
Champion: Central Catholic (8-2) is not the No. 2 seed, but the playoff committee anointed it the second-best team in the 16-team bracket by slipping it into the No. 6 bracket so it would not see top-seeded Placer until a section title game. The arrival of speed back Rey Vega (15 TDs in four games), who sat six weeks as a transfer, gives Central the most explosive offense in D4. Central needs to target Oregon-bound TE John Mundt every possession few DBs in the bracket can match up with his combination of size and quickness.
Runner-up: Placer (10-0) is the top seed, but it wasn't until the regular season ended that the Hillmen became a D4 entry. It is the largest school in the division (1,346 kids; CC has 410) and has USC-bound lineman Eddie Vanderdoes (6-4, 305) to dominate the line. Placer rolled to a 5-0 start, including a 48-30 win over CC in the opener and a 42-33 win versus D2 No. 2 seed Yuba City (9-1), but played flat in league and won three games by a total of 11 points. You'll have to stop RB Isaac Brahce (1,003 yards, 9 TDs) to beat the Hillmen.
Top threats: Los Banos (9-1) won a playoff game in D1 two years ago, and the Tigers and Center (9-1) have speed rarely seen in D4. LB can advance to the semifinal with RB James Sams limping, but he's got to be 100 percent to make the final. Chris Corpuz (60 percent completion rate, 1,579 yards, 23 TDs, 4 INTs) gives LB diversity with a big-play air attack and its lone loss was 35-14 to Central Catholic. ... Center lost 15-14 to Center on Friday, and it's as close to a mirror of LB as there is in the division.
Darkhorses: Argonaut and Ripon are both 10-0 and hold the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds, respectively, but it will require a prodigious upset for either to make the final. Ripon's road would include Central Catholic, Center and Placer as close to a murderer's row as there is in any division. Ripon last won a playoff game in 1997, and its only section title was in 1996.
The stunner: Escalon (8-2) gets FB Nathan Chunn (1,591 yards, 24 TDs) 30 or so carries a game and Phillip Kimble hits Alec VonAlvensleben for two deep pass plays to set up TDs, and exploits a muddy field in a quarterfinal to stun Placer. The Cougars avenge a Week Zero loss to Los Banos in a semifinal, then avenge a league loss to Ripon to win a second crown in three years.
Champion: Le Grand (8-2) paid the price for playing soft schedule, as RC trounced it in season finale: That won't happen a second time. Le Grand is the two-time defending section champ, and went to a State Bowl last fall. Ryan Martinez (1,251 yards, 16 TDs) is a workhorse, but Bulldogs must get the ball to Christian Williams (23 yards a catch, eight TDs, but he has just two catches a game). The seeding committee penalized Le Grand for its schedule, stripping it of a No. 2 seed and the bye the 'Dogs will play this Friday.
Runner-up: Waterford (8-2) is the top seed, though it tied Le Grand and Ripon Christian for the SL title, so it has a bye. RB Dylan Gonzalez (1,290 yards, 21 TDs) had a total of 26 carries the last two weeks, so he'll have plenty of rest after averaging 26 carries a during a four-game, midseason run.
Champion: Ripon Christian (8-2) won the SL, the most difficult D6 league, yet is a No. 4 seed and would have to visit No. 1 Foresthill in the semifinals. There's no better player in D6 than RB Andrew Brown (2,030 yards from scrimmage, 32 TDs), but RC's defense has to stop two different offenses the first two weeks Elliott is a run team, Foresthill is a team that throws to the end zone.
Runner-up: Brookside Christian (8-2) is the No. 2 seed and the favorite in D6, because no one has been able to match up with 6-2 Javier Rodriguez (49 catches, 21-yard average, 11 TDs). Brookside blitzed league foes by an average of 61-3, as QB Austin Caldron (2,524 yards, 26 TDs) threw regardless of the score. His 26th TD came last Friday, with Brookside already leading Millennium 66-0 late in the third quarter.