Right from the time the Sac-Joaquin Section announced that two-time defending state champion Central Catholic would rejoin the Valley Oak League (it was a member briefly in the late 1970s), football fans started marking their calendars, eager to see conference games between the Raiders and the traditional VOL powers.
Well, the first of those matchups is upon us: Manteca vs. Central Catholic.
The undefeated Buffaloes (3-0), who advanced all the way to the Division II Northern California regional championship game last season, will take on the 2-1 Raiders, who won the Division IV NorCal championship and went on to beat Bakersfield Christian for the state title.
Kickoff at David Patton Field is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“Manteca’s a great football program, always has been,” said Central Catholic coach Roger Canepa. “It’s a great football league. There are three or four section title teams, a couple of teams that have played in the state game, another that was almost there; so we’re excited.”
When Canepa talks about two teams that have played in the state title game, he’s referring to the Raiders (2007, ’12, ’13) and Oakdale (2012). Manteca is the school that was almost there, falling to Enterprise (Redding) 27-21 last season. All three have won section titles, as did former VOL resident Sonora back in ’95.
As far as being excited, well, Canepa will be less so if sophomore tailback Montell Bland can’t go tonight.
Bland, who had three games rushing for 100 yards or better as a freshman, including a 109-yard showing in the state championship game, injured his ankle in last week’s win over Beyer. He’s been receiving treatment all week and will be a game-time decision. That might put extra pressure on backfield mate Kalhiel Dillard, who actually has outrushed Bland 152-116 this season.
Oddly, junior quarterback Hunter Petlansky (6-3, 225) is the team’s leading rusher with 158 yards.
Both Central and Manteca lost a lot of size off their massive offensive lines from last season, but it’s the Buffs who have come closest to mirroring last year’s unit.
Still, graduation hit Manteca hard. Gone from Manteca’s roster is quarterback Joe Menzel (26 TDs, 6 INTs, 65 percent completion rate) and running back Alex Laurel (1,876 rushing yards; 49 total TDs).
Junior Dakarai Charles replaces Menzel and Hector Soto, who showed what he’s capable of last season with a 109 yards rushing against Casa Roble in the playoffs, takes over for Laurel. So far this season, Soto is averaging just over 100 yards per contest.
However, the Spartans have been the surprise of the Stanislaus District and have a solid corps of skill players. Enochs, meanwhile, are desperate for a victory and still have one of the most talented quarterbacks in the distrct – senior Shawn Munoz.
Winless start or perfect start, it’s all about Modesto Metro Conference now. The last time the teams met – in last season’s regular-season finale in November – a fight between players from both schools forced officials to call the game in the second quarter.
Still, the Patriots are dangerous offensively with junior running backs Jay Green (135 yards per game) and Trent Green (74 yards per game). Downey is led by quarterback P.J. Wilson, running back Malcome Green and wide receivers Josh Lowe and Isaiah Larry.
Linden, by the way, is a common opponent for these unbeaten teams. Orestimba beat the Lions 27-12 in the season opener in Newman.
Tonight, the Bears take on their third Fresno opponent this season in Clovis North, which beat Buhach Colony 36-35 on Sept. 12 and lost 21-20 last week to Edison (Fresno), which beat Merced 44-34 two weeks ago.
Instead, they’re 2-2 but still among the favorites to grab one of the Central California Conference’s two automatic playoff berths, along with Merced, Buhach Colony and intracity rival Pitman.
Tracy enters this preseason finale having outscored its last two opponents – Beyer and crosstown rival Kimball – by a combined score of 95-12.