MODESTO — Can it really be Week 10 of the high school football season? Seems like 15 minutes ago I was making frantic phone calls and sending out emails to Stanislaus District coaches, looking for information for The Bee's preseason edition.
Well, like they say, time flies when you're watching football.
And there's a lot of football worth watching this Friday night.
In fact, there are three games on tap that will determine league championships.
In the Modesto Metro Conference, Downey visits Beyer (at Gregori's Don Lanphear Stadium) to see who will be league co-champ with Modesto High (providing the Panthers take care of their own business Friday). In the Western Athletic Conference, Patterson comes to town to take on Central Catholic at David Patton Stadium. And in the Southern League, Le Grand makes the trip up Highway 99 to take on Ripon Christian at Ripon's Stouffer Field.
Regardless of the outcome of the WAC and SL games, both teams already have qualified for the playoffs. These matchups are purely to determine who wears the league crown.
The Downey-Beyer matchup, however, has a loser-leave-town flavor. Both have identical 6-4 overall records and 4-1 league marks, and the winner will get the MMC's No. 2 playoff seed. The loser will find itself stuck on six wins and on the playoff bubble.
Will DeBoard, the Sac-Joaquin Section director of communications, explained in an email earlier this week that six wins the traditional threshold for playoff qualification probably won't be so automatic this year. For the first time since going to the current playoff format in 2009, six-win teams likely will be left out of the postseason dance.
"Our guys have stepped it up this week in a very positive way," said Beyer coach Bill Flesher, whose team had to run a gauntlet of Gregori, Modesto and now Downey to end the season. "We knew all along that the end of the season was probably where our best competition was going to be. It turned out that was right."
Downey runs an offense and defense that is similar to Modesto, which was last week's opponent for Beyer.
"I think it helps us to face two spread teams in a row," said Flesher. "It allows us to evaluate what we might want to do differently, to make adjustments personnel-wise and scheme-wise."
Knights head coach Jeremy Plaa isn't as convinced.
"I don't think it really matters," said Plaa. "It kind of balances itself out. They got to play against a spread team last week, but we got to see how they defend a spread team.
"At this point in the season, teams have pretty much seen everything. It's about hustle, heart, assignment football, and how much you want to win."
Central Catholic (8-1, 5-0) and Patterson (9-0, 5-0) present a matchup of contrasts: The Raiders' size vs. the Tigers' speed.
"They're a very athletic team," said Central Catholic head coach Roger Canepa. "I don't think they're as big as we are, but they're a very athletic team."
Even so, Patterson probably isn't the most athletic team the Raiders have faced. That honor probably would go to McClymonds (Oakland), last year's NorCal runner-up.
"Patterson reminds me of McClymonds fast and athletic," said Canepa. "I hope they're not as fast as McClymonds, because they were fast!"
The Tigers have faced a few teams that play a similar style to the Raiders.
"Los Banos has some great O-line and D-line kids," said Patterson coach Nick Marchy. "They're pretty close. They use different blocking schemes, but formation-wise, they kinda do the same stuff.
"In our league Central Valley and Pacheco both have big running games. They like to pound the ball. And Escalon, no matter how big or how small, are very aggressive."
The Tigers know that they have to stick to their gameplan and not get caught up in the mystique of the Raiders who just happen to be the reigning small school state champions.
"We're going to have to play Tiger football," said Marchy. "Just get the job done and not allow Central Catholic to intimidate us."
The battle between Le Grand (9-0, 6-0) and Ripon Christian (8-1, 6-0) what first-year RC head coach Randy Fasani calls "probably the biggest game in our program's history" boils down to this: The Bulldogs must stop Knights running back Andrew Brown to win.
But that's the problem: Nobody's been able to stop Brown all season.
Brown, who is second on the district's all-time rushing list with 5,162 yards, should break the single-season mark of 2,195 set by Hughson's Homer Garza in 1997. He currently had 2,034 for the season.
Over the last six weeks, Brown has averaged an eye-popping 271 yards per game and 12.8 yards per carry.
"Coach Fasani does a good job moving Brown around, getting him in different looks," said Martinez. "They're a very well-coached team."
Fasani, however, thinks this game will come down to other factors.
"I think one of the keys will be which team make fewer mistakes," said Fasani. "Most people focus on big plays and the playmakers ... Everybody points to (RB) Ryan Martinez and (WR) Christian Williams, but if you watch film as much as our coaches do, you'll realize that their offensive and defensive lines dominate games.
"I think this game will be won in the trenches."High school standings, rankings, notes.Page C-3