It's only Week 3 of the high school football season, but there are a ton of big games on Friday night's docket.
You have statement games between longtime rivals, intriguing small school-large school matchups, and three really good inter-section games.
Let's take a look at some of this week's biggies:
Merced (2-0) at Edison-Fresno (3-0). Merced has a strong group of athletes this season and doesn't appear to be shying from any opponent. The Bears feature running back Stephon Mathis (344 yards, 10.8 yards per carry) on offense and a host of talent on defense. Edison has two of the top college prospects in the nation in defensive backs T.J. McDonald (the son of Edison coach and former San Francisco 49ers star Tim McDonald) and Cliff Harris.
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In fact, three ESPN CalHiSports.com preseason all-state defensive backs will be on the field -- McDonald, Harris and Merced's Bernard Bolden.
Chowchilla (2-0) at Modesto Christian (2-0). Merced-Edison may be the key large-school matchup, and this one is the top small-school games of the week. The undefeated teams feature entirely different styles, too.
Modesto Christian is going to spread the field and let flashy quarterback Isaiah Burse (318 yards passing, 175 yards rushing) make plays. Chowchilla lines up in the Double Wing and runs straight ahead or around the tackles.
This is a huge game for Modesto Christian. A victory here and the Crusaders serve notice they're going to be a large part of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V title race.
Escalon (2-0) at Buhach Colony (2-1). An interesting small-large matchup where the undefeated Cougars are coming off a big 38-7 victory over Patterson. Buhach Colony has a good mix of talent, from receiver Hodari Peterson to sophomore running back Corey Chapman (486 yards rushing, six touchdowns).
Should Escalon win this one, it will be favored to continue winning at least until Week 9 against Modesto Christian.
Hilmar (2-0) at Central Valley (2-0). With so many returning skill players, Hilmar was expected to be an offensive powerhouse. But the defense has been a surprise. The Yellowjackets haven't allowed a score in victories over Denair and Hughson. They'll face their toughest test in Valley Oak League member Central Valley. The Hawks will be the strongest offense the Yellowjackets face until Central Catholic on Oct. 24.
Gustine (2-0) at Mariposa (2-0). Gustine is off to a 2-0 start for the first time since its section Division V runner-up season in 2002. The Redskins have their hands full with the Grizzlies, who are off to a start that is just as good as Gustine's with a stronger schedule. Hopes are high in both towns, so expect a large crowd at the Mariposa County Fairgrounds.
Enochs (2-0) at Del Oro (0-2). It may be the biggest game in the new school's football history. The Eagles -- who have already doubled their number of victories from last year's inaugural varsity season -- head to a Division II powerhouse in the Golden Eagles of Loomis.
"We're playing a team that is 0-2, and they aren't happy," Enochs assistant coach Chris Cloward said. "This is a big one for us. We've had this game highlighted on our calendar for a long time."
St. Mary's (1-1) at Los Banos (2-1). The Stockton-area powerhouse Rams travel to Carl Loftin Stadium to take on the resurgent Tigers. Expect this one to be high scoring, as St. Mary's features Oregon State-bound quarterback Cody Vaz and a host of receivers while Los Banos receiver Rubal Sangha (11 touchdowns) is the state's fourth-leading scorer.
McClymonds-Oakland (2-0) at Oakdale (0-2). Oakdale has run into two strong opponents in Turlock and West of Tracy and doesn't have a win to show for it. Starting quarterback Tanner Combs was banged up in the Mustangs' loss to West last week. It will be a game-time decision over who starts behind center. Look for the Mustangs to go back to the basics (translation: running game) against a talented team from Oakland.
Manteca (2-0) at Tracy (2-0). The Buffaloes revived this longtime rivalry last year, and it's particularly interesting this season. Manteca has wins over Beyer and Tokay, but the Bulldogs are clearly their toughest opponent so far. Should the Buffaloes win, it would serve as a loud message to the rest of the VOL.
Will DeBoard's high schools column appears Thursdays. E-mail him at email@example.com, write him at P.O. Box 5256, Modesto, CA 95352-5256, call 578-2300 or fax 238-4551.