For the first time six years, the Stanislaus District won't have a competitor in a CIF State bowl game this weekend.
That impressive streak ended on Saturday night, when a desperate onside kick by Manteca High in the final minutes dropped into the arms of a Saint Francis of Mountain View player, completing a 28-23 victory in the CIF Northern California Division II-A regional bowl.
Manteca quarterback Gino Campiotti was a workhorse, once again, throwing for 319 yards and two touchdowns in the season-ending loss. In five postseason games, Campiotti accounted for 25 touchdowns, including five through the air to burn Oakdale, the Valley Oak League champion and The Bee's top-ranked large-school team during the regular season.
Campiotti's playoff push put him in the conversation for The Bee's top individual award, but he'll have company on the ballot. Gregori quarterback Bobby Avina engineered a historic season for the Jaguars, a first-time Modesto Metro Conference champion. Gregori was one of two Stanislaus District teams to enter the postseason with a perfect record.
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Turlock safety Dustin Grein was the Central California Conference MVP, bolstering one of the top defenses in the southern half of the section, and Patterson senior Gabe Sanchez was the gold standard of dual-threat QBs. Sanchez was the only quarterback to throw for more than 2,500 yards and rush for 1,000.
And then there were the dueling running backs at the top of the VOL standings: Cameron Cherry of Oakdale and Dauson Booker of Central Catholic. Cherry led the district in rushing with 2,154 yards and 27 touchdowns, while Booker dazzled with 1,838 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Who is deserving of the honor?
Follow me on Twitter (@jburns1980) and cast your vote. We'll announce our Player of the Year selections for all fall sports over the holidays.
Now that the dust has settled on the high school football season, it's time to revisit the preseason rankings and see just how close -- or horribly wrong -- we were:
Where we hit: With 18 seniors, Oakdale began the season at No. 1, followed closely by Manteca nad Central Catholic. The Mustangs had completed the trifecta in 2016, winning VOL, Sac-Joaquin Section and CIF State championships. With all of that experience, including Division I-caliber talent on the offensive and defensive lines, Oakdale belonged on top. For 13 weeks, we were right. The Mustangs roared into the Division III section final, where they fell flat in a loss to Manteca. Were we surprised the Buffaloes advanced to the final? No. Though, Manteca flourished as an underdog, The Bee thought the Buffaloes might be on the cusp of a historic season back in August. Like Oakdale, Manteca returned a lot of talent from a team that won a D-IV section title in 2016. In our preseason poll, The Bee wrote "the reigning D-IV section champions are poised for a historic season." Again, we were right. Campiotti set numerous school records as Manteca won its sixth section title and hosted a Northern California bowl for the first time in school history.
Where we missed: It turns out, we were much too high on Downey (No. 4), Merced (No. 6) and Pitman (No. 7). The Knights limped to the finish in the MMC and had their five-year reign atop the conference spoiled by losses to Modesto and Gregori. Western Athletic Conference champion Patterson didn't even crack the top-10. The Tigers, lurking in the shadows, were listed in our "others to watch." Patterson wouldn't make its move up the rankings until after a shootout loss to Downey. MMC champion Gregori was No. 8.
Where we hit: Hilmar's rollercoaster ride began with a high. The Yellowjackets were No. 2 in the preseason poll, just behind four-time Mother Lode League champion Sonora. Our words: "Despite its youth, the Yellowjackets are still the team to beat in the TVL." Hilmar never really challenged in the TVL, but a talented junior class found their stride in the postseason. The Yellowjackets were one of the final teams awarded an at-large bid, and at 5-5, many, including The Bee, didn't give them much chance to survive a road trip to Summerville. Hilmar fed off the doubt and captured the Division IV section banner with a 42-13 victory over Modesto Christian, which began the season No. 5 in the small-school poll. The Yellowjackets were rewarded with a CIF Northern California play-in game and lost a double-overtime thriller with Strathmore, 53-52. Sonora, Calaveras and Orestimba never dropped out of the top-five.
Preseason rankings, with final records
1. Oakdale (12-2): The Mustangs won the VOL, but lost in the D-III section final to Manteca.
2. Manteca (12-3): The Buffaloes won their second straight section title, and hosted their first CIF State regional bowl.
3. Central Catholic (10-2): The Raiders reached the semifinal round of the Division II playoffs, losing at home to Del Oro.
4. Downey (8-3): The Knights lost three straight to finish the season, spoiling their bid to become the first Modesto public school to win six straight city titles since Davis in the 1 990s.
5. Turlock (8-3): The Bulldogs defended their Central California Conference title, but were eliminated in the first round of the D-I playoffs by rival Tracy.
6. Merced (4-6): The Bears failed to qualify for the section playoffs.
7. Pitman (5-5): The Pride failed to qualify for the section playoffs.
8. Gregori (11-1): The Jaguars completed their perfect regular season with a Modesto Metro Conference title and the program's first-ever home playoff game.
9. Modesto (7-4): The Panthers won seven games in coach Brett Wagner's first season, advancing to the Division I playoffs as the MMC's runner-up.
10. Buhach Colony (7-4): The Thunder finished second in the CCC and advanced to the section playoffs for the first time under fourth-year coach Kevin Navarra.
1. Sonora (9-3): The Wildcats won the Mother Lode League for a fourth consecutive year and earned the No. 1 seed in the D-V section playoffs.
2. Hilmar (8-6): The Yellowjackets won the Division VI section championship. In three section playoff games, Hilmar outscored its opponents 130-54.
3. Calaveras (8-3): Calaveras was the No. 2 seed in the D-V playoffs and suffered an upset loss to TVL co-champion Ripon.
4. Orestimba (10-1): The Warriors completed their second perfect regular season in the last three years and finished the season No. 1 in the Bee's small-school poll.
5. Modesto Christian (7-6): The Crusaders won a share of the TVL title and advanced to the D-VI section final.