Injuries could shape the postseason picture in the southern half of the Sac-Joaquin Section, particularly in the Southern League.
Undefeated Delhi could be without two-way star Jesse Flores for a second straight week. Flores sat out a 57-7 victory over Le Grand with a high ankle sprain. The starting fullback and defensive lineman leads the team in rushing yards (623), touchdowns (10), tackles for a loss (11) and sacks (three).
Flores injured his ankle in an 18-6 victory over Gustine on Sept. 30, and then played about half the game against Waterford the following week, another blowout win.
He hasn’t practiced since.
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“They were ankle-biting him all night long,” Delhi coach Rod McCombs said of the nature of Flores’ injury.
High ankle sprains can linger, and Flores has voiced his frustration with the slow recovery process. He took to Twitter on Sunday, posting: “When all you want to do is be healthy already and play this Friday.”
McCombs may also be without starting linebacker Scorpio Castorena, who injured his back. Castorena has performed at an elite level this season, registering 67 tackles.
“He’s the best linebacker in the league, in my opinion,” McCombs said. “We’re game-planning as if we’ll be without both of those guys. Both have been key players for us all year. Missing one or the other is hard enough as it is, but missing both leaves a big hole.”
Samuel Cortez has inherited Flores’ carries and topped 100 yards last week. Abel Antunez and Anthony Mejia have stepped in for Castorena.
“We feel blessed that we have No. 2s at those positions,” McCombs said.
The Hawks (7-0, 4-0) are enjoying a record-setting season. Delhi is undefeated after seven games for the first time and matched the program mark for wins in a season with last week’s triumph. The Hawks, who have climbed to No. 4 in The Bee’s small-school rankings, have won every game by double digits.
The final stretch won’t be so easy, especially if Flores and Casterena remain hobbled.
Delhi closes with road trips to Denair (Friday) and Ripon Christian (Nov. 4), and has a home showdown with No. 6 Orestimba (Oct. 28) sandwiched in between. The Warriors are the defending league champion and off to another rocket start at 6-1, 4-0.
McCombs’ focus is to have Flores and Casterena “as healthy as they can be for (Orestimba).”
Denair has its own injury concerns.
Quarterback Kyle Prock left a 35-8 loss to Orestimba last week with a strained knee and is questionable for Friday’s game. He sustained the injury in the first quarter on what appeared to be a routine tackle.
The Coyotes, dubbed the “Mighty 14,” finished the game with just 12 players.
Head coach Anthony Armas will watch Prock closely this week, but won’t clear the senior without parental consent.
Denair (4-3, 2-2) is gunning for its first postseason berth in six years, needing two wins in its final three games to become eligible. After Delhi, the Coyotes have winnable games against Mariposa and Waterford, barring injury.
“He’s a pretty determined kid,” Armas wrote in a text message to The Bee. “We’re not going to put him out there if he can’t do it or is in danger of further hurting himself. But if he is able to go and his parents and the coaching staff feel he can play without endangering himself anymore than usual, we won’t keep him out.”
Downey’s Isaiah Johnson is also waiting to get cleared. The junior wide receiver has missed four games with a knee injury.
While coach Jeremy Plaa would love to have the 6-foot-3 red zone target on Friday against rival Modesto, he won’t jeopardize Johnson’s future. Johnson has appeared in just three games, but is second on the team with seven TD catches.
Merced found itself on the other end of the injury report last week. Quarterback Jake Foss returns to full active duty in a 47-7 win over El Capitan. The reigning Central California Conference Offensive Player of the Year tossed a touchdown on his first throw, a 22-yard strike to Paul Scoggins.
Foss was thought to be lost for the season with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. He put off surgery to finish out his senior season. He returned as a place kicker, but stepped back under center against Atwater on Sept. 30.
On Friday, Foss through his first passes since the injury.
He relieved sophomore Dhameer Warren with the Bears ahead 20-0. Foss finished 5 of 7 for 75 yards, led three scoring drives and had a second touchdown pass to Ulonzo Gilliam Jr.
The Bears (5-2, 2-1) are one game back of Pitman (7-0, 3-0) and Turlock (5-2, 3-0) in the CCC standings, still very much in the mix for the program’s fourth straight title.
Merced travels to Buhach Friday. Warren will like get the start as Merced coach Rob Scheidt eases Foss back into the fold.
“I’m just excited for him,” Scheidt told The Merced Sun-Star. “It’s been a progression. We’ve had to be patient. We’ve talked about sticking with the plan. Tonight’s only part of the progression.”