The Sac-Joaquin Section released its football playoff pairings Saturday afternoon, and 26 teams from the Stanislaus District have been invited to the big dance.
The Trans-Valley and Southern leagues were the big winners, sending five teams into playoff brackets.
All five TVL teams Hilmar, Ripon, Escalon, Modesto Christian and Hughson were sent into the Division 4 playoffs, while the SL entrants Le Grand, Ripon Christian, Mariposa, Waterford and Delhi were split between D5 and D6.
The D4 bracket, an absolute minefield, created a bit of stir when undefeated Hilmar was positioned as the No. 2 seed, while 9-1 Central Catholic was bumped to No. 1.
"We're not going to worry about the pairings," said Hilmar coach Frank Marques, whose teams draws a first-round date with No. 15 Liberty Ranch (6-4) on Friday. "The only thing we can control is how we play, and we're preparing for a game against Liberty Ranch."
Roger Canepa, head coach at reigning small school state champion Central Catholic, is happy the section thought enough of his program to give it the top spot.
"We're the No. 1 seed and that's good," said Canepa, whose Raiders open against No. 16 Marysville. "Being home every game helps; we're happy about that."
Central Catholic, a school with an enrollment of about 400, could face No. 9 Sierra (Manteca) in the second round, a school with an enrollment in the neighborhood of 1,400. The Timberwolves first have to get past No. 8 Colfax.
In the D1 bracket, Modesto Metro Conference co-champion Modesto High was designated the No. 10 seed and drew a nightmare matchup against No. 7 Pleasant Grove of Elk Grove the 16th-ranked team in the state by Cal-Hi Sports in a game that will be played at Downey High.
"They were 8-0 two weeks ago and lost to two pretty good teams (No. 1 Folsom and No. 3 Oak Ridge)," Modesto coach Richie Alkire said. "I imagine they'll be the best team we've seen this year, but we want that challenge. That's what the playoffs are all about. We're happy for the opportunity to host a game and see how good we are."
The Panthers were the only team this season to beat No. 2 Stagg of Stockton, which will open against No. 15 Beyer, but got demerits for losses to non-playoff qualifiers Gregori and Turlock.
If comparing scores can be counted upon to provide any insight, Modesto lost to Pitman 63-12 on Sept. 12; Pitman, in turn, fell to Pleasant Grove 42-7 two weeks later.
It's a longshot, but Modesto could face MMC rival Beyer in the second round.
"We didn't want to stop playing football this season," Patriots coach Bill Flesher said. "We had some tough losses that last couple of weeks, but we still felt we can do something."
Stagg has won nine in a row since dropping its opener to Modesto. It'll face a Beyer team that is familiar with the Delta Kings. The Patriots have attended Stagg's seven-on-seven tournament the past two summers and scrimmage there in the preseason. Plus, there's the little matter of Beyer's 23-21 playoff win over the Delta Kings back in 2011.
"We kinda have a little rivalry with them," Flesher said. "We really respect Stagg and I really respect (Coach) Don Norton."
Two district teams Central Valley and Pacheco will be making their first forays into the postseason.
"It's perfect," said Central Valley head coach Jason McCloskey, whose second-seeded Hawks team will take on Valley Oak League champ Manteca (9-1). "We're playing a team that we're familiar with, and we've come a long way since Week Zero."
In that 47-20 loss on Aug. 30, CV fumbled on its first play from scrimmage and gave up three TDs on special teams.
"Do the math," McCloskey said. "We eliminate the mistakes and we're playing with those guys. We've shored up a lot of things since then. I think we're just a much better team than we showed that night."
Central Valley's berth means running back Ja'Quan Gardner's high school career lives for at least another week. He can extend his all-time district rushing record of 5,636 yards, and he'll get a chance to break the single-season mark of 2,195, held by Hughson's Homer Garza (1997). Brown needs 107 yards for a new record.
One team that didn't receive its playoff invitation was 6-4 Gregori. Never in the section's current playoff format, which has been in place since 2009, has a six-win team failed to make the playoffs. The Jaguars, along with El Camino and Bear River, became the first six-win teams to miss the postseason.