CORTEZ: Taking a look at high school football midway through the season

jcortez@modbee.comOctober 3, 2013 

In this week's Stanislaus Football Weekly, The Bee's Joe Cortez, Brian VanderBeek and Ron Agostini discuss Larry Shimel, the remaining unbeaten teams, this week's big games, tri-tips and more. (Brian Clark/bclark@modbee.com)

MODESTO BEE

— It's October and we're just about halfway through the high school football season.

League play has started in most conferences, with the majority of Stanislaus District teams having already played five games. The others will play their fifth game Friday.

Some things have come as quite a surprise; others have gone according to Hoyle.

So, with that in mind, let's take a look at the various leagues and try to determine how things might play out over the next few weeks.

Modesto Metro Conference

Enochs was the preseason pick by coaches to win the MMC, but it's been a rough year for James Stacy's crew. During the summer, the Eagles were rocked by the death of two teammates. Then, a season-opening, 60-point loss to Turlock set the tone for the early part of their season. The Eagles are 0-5, 0-1 in the MMC. They get a winless Johansen team this week and injured starting quarterback Shawn Munoz should be back soon. If Enochs is going to get this thing turned around, it has to start Friday.

Meanwhile, Jason McCoy's Gregori squad has been the most consistent team this season, and is a virtual lock to reach six wins. Don't forget: Under the Sac-Joaquin Section's revamped playoff system, no six-win team has ever failed to qualify for postseason play.

Beyer and Downey — with three wins each — look like they'll get to six. Modesto, with two wins, has the talent to win this conference but has been wildly inconsistent.

Two weeks ago, I saw the Panthers nearly erase a 27-point second-half deficit against Turlock. Last week, they let a 19-point second-half lead slip away against Gregori. Remember, however, that Modesto was 1-9 last year so this is a bit of a rebuilding project for head coach Richie Alkire.

Still, the Panthers can win this thing if they learn to put two halves together.

They were my pick to win the MMC before the season began and I'm sticking with 'em.

Central California Conference

The CCC won't begin league action until next week, but it's clear that Pitman is the class of the loop. Turlock (4-1) and Merced (3-2) are ranked second and third, respectively, in The Bee's large-school pool, and look like locks to make the playoffs. But they're a notch below Pitman.

Three-time defending CCC champ Buhach Colony is 2-3, but don't be fooled. The Thunder has played some of the tougher teams in Northern California and will be battle tested.

Oh, and don't forget that BC has not lost a league game since 2009. That counts for a lot, but this is Pitman's race to lose.

Valley Oak League

With just one returning starter on each side of the ball, coupled with an 0-2 start, it may have looked like Oakdale's seven-year reign atop the VOL was destined to end.

Not so fast.

The Mustangs (2-2) whipped a talented Paraclete (Lancaster) team that was ranked in national preseason polls to get things turned around, then beat up on East Union last week. Until somebody proves otherwise, Oakdale is the team to be beat.

That "somebody" could be Manteca. The Buffs are 3-1 — they lost 28-27 to unbeaten Wilcox (Santa Clara) — and they have blowout wins over Central Valley, Los Banos and Sonora. They're big, physical and can run and pass.

Across town at Sierra High, the Timberwolves are 3-1 and have averaged 53 points in their victories. Plus, they have one of the District's best quarterbacks in Jake Pruitt, who has completed 67 percent of his passes for 265 yards a game.

I'll ride the Oakdale train as long as I can. The Mustangs will face Manteca and Sierra at The Corral, and after making my first visit there, I know how special that place is. That'll be enough to get them over.

Trans-Valley League

This one's going to be good.

Three of the six remaining undefeated teams in the Stanislaus District reside in the TVL — Ripon and Hilmar are 5-0, while Hughson is 4-0. Neither has played a super tough schedule, but Hilmar has a 30-0 win over Modesto Christian to its credit, while Ripon dominated Escalon 35-3 last week. Hughson has its midterm exam this week against Escalon — what used to be one of the hottest rivalries in the district — then faces Ripon on Oct. 11.

The Indians were 11-1 last year — their lone loss was to eventual state-champion Central Catholic in the section quarterfinals — and it was supposed to be a once-in-a-generation type of season. Apparently, Ripon didn't get the memo. Or maybe they did get the memo and tough-as-nails nose tackle Cody Day just decided to eat it. I prefer to think it was the latter.

Ripon's the pick here.

Western Athletic Conference

Central Catholic. Should I continue?

Clearly, the Raiders are the best team in this league, in this section, in this half of the state. They've got their eyes on another trip to a state bowl in Carson. The rest of the WAC is playing for the second automatic playoff berth. Central Valley is 3-2 and you can't count out a team with running back Ja'Quan Gardner on its roster, but Los Banos and crosstown rival Pacheco are the best bets for that No. 2 slot.

I'm going with Pacheco to grab that runner-up spot. Actually, I'm going with junior Frank Ginda — a 6-2, 227-pound man-child who ran for nearly 300 yards last week against Central Valley.

Southern League

Le Grand. Should I continue?

Much like Central Catholic rules the WAC, Le Grand rules the Southern League. The Bulldogs do it with an age-old formula: They run the ball at will, and they play bone-crushing defense. Old-school football.

But there's a bit of a darkhorse emerging in the SL. First-year head coach Randy Fasani — a former Stanford quarterback who had a cup of coffee in the NFL — has guided Ripon Christian to a 3-1 start. The Knights lost by 30 to a dynamite Ripon squad, but they're the only team this season to score more than three points against the Indians. In fact, they scored 26. Senior running back Andrew Brown, who averages about 170 yards per game, makes the offense go.

Is it enough to unseat the Bulldogs, who have won three section titles in a row and reached four straight championship games?

No.

Mother Lode League

Amador (5-0), with a 14-9 win over Capital Christian — then ranked No. 2 in Cal-Hi Sports' NorCal bowl rankings — sent a message to the rest of the MLL, which starts league play next Friday. Calaveras (3-1) is a definite contender, but a head-scratching 51-15 loss to Modesto Christian means they're second-best in the MLL.

Central California Athletic Alliance

On paper, defending Division 6 champion Brookside Christian (Stockton) and Millennium (Tracy) look like the best bets to take the CCAA, but I'll tell you how I hope this one plays out.

I hope Modesto's Big Valley Christian, which last week suffered a devastating blow with the death of Larry Shimel, the only coach the program has ever known, can make a title run in honor of their beloved coach.

The Lions might do it. They might not. But be certain that they'll honor their coach in the process.

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