For 26 Stanislaus District football teams, the dream of a Sac-Joaquin Section championship remains alive.
For some, the goal of winning it all is a pipe dream; just reaching the playoffs is reward enough for a season’s worth of hard work.
For others, a couple of postseason victories is a possibility and, if they catch a few breaks, they might even reach the final, where they might catch a few more breaks and win the whole darn thing.
Of course, for a select few, bringing home the coveted blue banner is an absolute must; anything less and the dream becomes a nightmare.
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We’ll leave it to you to decide into which category your favorite team belongs. And just in case you’re having difficulty figuring that out, here’s a game-by-game synopsis for the local teams that begin their title quest tonight.
No. 7 Pleasant Grove (8-2) at No. 10 Modesto (7-3) – By virtue of their Modesto Metro Conference title, the Panthers were given a home game … against the powerful Eagles, who finished third in the rugged Delta River League behind Folsom, ranked third in the state, and Oak Ridge, ranked No. 11. To compare scores, Pitman beat Modesto 63-12, then Pitman turned around and lost to PG 42-7. Scary.
No. 15 Beyer (6-4) at No. 2 Stagg (9-1) – The Delta Kings enter the postseason as one of the hottest teams in the section, having won nine games in a row. They are led by QB Wayne Brooks, who has more than 1,900 yards passing and 700 yards rushing in just eight games this season. He’s thrown for 27 touchdowns against six interceptions. Beyer’s offense will need time-consuming drives to keep Stagg’s offense on the sidelines.
No. 9 Pitman (7-3) at No. 8 Franklin (7-3) – The Wildcats shared the Delta Valley Conference championship with powerful Elk Grove and Grant and their losses this year came to NorCal powerhouses Jesuit, Grant and Oak Ridge.
No. 12 Jesuit (7-3) at No. 5 Merced (8-2) – The Marauders will have to travel 120 miles for their game tonight – the second longest trek in this year’s playoffs – but still present a tough draw for the Central California Conference champions. Jesuit’s losses have to come to teams that, at one time or another, were ranked in the state’s Top 20.
No. 12 Downey (7-3) at No. 5 Grant (7-3) – The Pacers, winners of the 2008 Open Division state championship, are in the playoffs for a section-best 23rd consecutive season. In fact, when you combine Downey’s playoff appearances (16) with Grant’s (68), it’s the highest total of any first-round matchup. Grant outscored opponents in the tough DVC 180-55. The Knights will have to keep the Pacers’ offense, led by 1,000-yard running back Deandre Whittington-Grays, off the field. Downey’s offense, led by quarterback P.J. Wilson and coming off a big performance in last week’s MMC finale, will need to play keep-away.
No. 14 Atwater (6-4) at No. 3 Elk Grove (9-1) – These teams met in the section finale twice in the late 1990s. In 1997, the Thundering Herd won 43-29; the following year it wasn’t so close, as Elk Grove posted a 77-22 victory. Those games featured two future NFL players – Atwater’s Bernard Berrian and Elk Grove’s Lance Briggs. The Herd has allowed seven or fewer points in a game seven times.
No. 9 Pacheco (7-3) at No. 8 Christian Brothers (7-3) – The Panthers will have to journey farther than any other team in these playoffs – 125 miles – for their opener. Pacheco and its 1,000-yard rusher, 6-2, 220-pound junior Frank Ginda, also have this in their favor: Christian Brothers is on a 12-game losing streak in the playoffs.
No. 13 Oakdale (6-4) at No. 4 Patterson (9-1) – The Mustangs gained plenty of playoff experience last season when they advanced all the way to the state championship game, where they lost 42-15 to Serra (Gardena). Patterson suffered its first loss of the season last week – a 17-13 nail-biter to reigning state champ Central Catholic – and will need to shake that off against a proud Oakdale team. Many are pointing to this game as one of the top first-round matchups in the entire field.
No. 15 Central Valley (6-4) at No. 2 Manteca (9-1) – These teams met in the season opener and Manteca was a runaway winner, 47-20. Central Valley’s offensive line, dominated by underclassmen, has grown up since then. And, of course, the Hawks have star running back Ja’Quan Gardner, the district’s all-time leading rusher (5,636), who is 106 yards off the district’s single-season mark of 2,195. Manteca, however, is huge, fast and on a roll. The Buffaloes, led by potential Valley Oak League MVP Alex Laurel, has won eight straight since falling 28-27 to Wilcox (Santa Clara) on Sept. 6.
No. 16 Marysville (6-4) at No. 1 Central Catholic (9-1) – The Indians get to travel 116 miles, just for the privilege of playing the defending small school state champion. Ouch.
The Raiders, despite one loss, were bumped to the top spot of the D4 field ahead of undefeated Hilmar. Despite that, Central Catholic has a potential second-round matchup with Sierra, a VOL team that was dropped into the D4 playoff bracket, and a possible semifinal against 9-1 Ripon, whose only loss was to Hilmar. Sophomore quarterback Hunter Petlansky will get the start tonight in place of hobbled Donovin Townsend.
No. 9 Sierra (7-3) at No. 8 Colfax (8-2) – The Timberwolves must drive 111 miles, the fourth-longest road trip in the section, to play a Colfax team that ended the season with decisive wins over playoff teams Placer (D4) and Lincoln (D3). Sierra quarterback Jake Pruitt has completed 223 of 320 pass attempts (70 percent) for 2,807 and 33 touchdown passes. The Falcons haven’t come close to seeing a passer like Pruitt this season.
No. 12 Hughson (6-4) at No. 5 Calaveras (8-2) – According to the Sac-Joaquin Section press kit, the Huskies were the 64th team to make the 64-team field in divisions 1-4, so they’ll be looking to make the most of their good fortune. Hughson and Calaveras hat met five previous times in the playoffs. The Huskies hold a 4-1 advantage, with two of the wins coming in the 1991 and 1992 Division 3 section title games.
No. 13 Dixon (6-4) at No. 4 Ripon (9-1) – Since suffering their only loss of the season to Hilmar, the Indians took out their frustrations on Riverbank and Orestimba, to the tune of 128-7. What’s more, Ripon had a bye the final week of the season, so it’s rested and ready to roll. The Indians defense has held six foes to seven or fewer points this season.
No. 11 Modesto Christian (6-4) at No. 6 Center (7-3) – On paper, Center may think it caught a break with a first-round assignment against MC. After all, the Crusaders are the fourth-place team from the Trans-Valley League, and have just 20 players on their roster. But upon closer inspection, the Cougars will see that all of MC’s losses came to playoff qualifiers, who have a combined record of 32-8. The Crusaders’ offense is led by quarterback Anthony Brooks and running back Andre Edwards.
No. 10 Escalon (6-4) at No. 7 Amador (9-1) – The Cougars are playing in their 16th consecutive postseason and 25th in school history. They boast a 44-16 record in the playoffs, which includes eight section titles and the 2010 small school state title. Amador was one of the victims on Escalon’s march to that state crown, falling 63-25. Amador’s lone loss this season was to Calaveras. The Buffaloes’ most notable victory this season was a 14-9 upset of Capital Christian.
No. 15 Liberty Ranch (6-4) at No. 2 Hilmar (10-0) – Despite being the only undefeated team in the Division 4 playoffs, Hilmar was given a No. 2 seed. That may not be such a bad thing, as the bottom half of the bracket looks like less of a minefield than the top half. The Yellowjackets’ swarming defense, which gave up more than 20 points only once this season, may be too much for a Liberty Ranch team that lacks a real offensive threat.
No. 5 Waterford (5-5) at No. 4 Rio Vista (8-2) – The Wildcats won their only playoff game last season, advancing to the section championship game where they fell to top-seeded Le Grand (10-0), the three-time defending champion that has a bye tonight.
No. 6 Delhi (5-5) at No. 3 Golden Sierra (5-5) – Only five teams with 5-5 records qualified for the playoffs this season, and two of them will meet in this game. The Hawks and Grizzlies met in the 2006 playoffs, with Golden Sierra winning 35-0. The winner of this game will travel to take on No. 2 Mariposa (8-2), which has a first-round bye.
No. 6 Stone Ridge Christian (5-5) at No. 2 Ripon Christian (8-2) – Stone Ridge Christian has the unenviable task of trying to stop RC’s Andrew Brown, the No. 2 career rusher in Stanislaus District history (5,283 yards), who is only 40 yards off the district’s single-season mark of 2,195, set by Hughson’s Homer Garza in 1997.