We're four weeks into the high school football season, and eight teams remain undefeated.
It's a varied lot of perfection as well.
It's pretty clear that the Central California Conference is playing the Stanislaus District's best football, but nary a team from the CCC makes the list.
Instead, in this group we have two of the usual suspects from the Valley Oak League, three from the Trans-Valley League and two surprising private schools.
Let's take a look at each undefeated team.
MANTECA (4-0). The Buffaloes were in this spot last year, and finished the regular season at 9-1. This year's group has a different look. Lots of juniors are playing in key spots, most notably the team's leading rusher (Marquis Miller, 504 yards, eight TDs), receiver (Reggie Bell, 11 catches for 220 yards and four TDs), passer (Michael Barber, 408 yards) and tackler (Adam DeCosta, 39 tackles).
Manteca's next big challenge comes this week against Sierra (3-1), in a game that should decide the Manteca city champion. A Week 6 game at Sonora looms as well.
SONORA (4-0). The Wildcats' spread option befuddled their first three opponents -- all from the Modesto Metro Conference. The team then needed a big defensive play to preserve their 35-34 VOL opener victory over Ceres. Sonora has thrown the ball 20 times so far, but that may be because of the emergence of running back Dan Link (640 yards, six TDs). The offense is averaging 35.5 points per game. Sonora has Central Valley at home this week; after Ceres last week, anything is possible. Manteca heads up the hill after that.
ESCALON (4-0). Like Manteca, the Cougars are a junior-dominated team. They made their big statement in Week 2, a 38-7 dismantling of Patterson. Charlie McDonald may line up at fullback much of the time, but he's become a big-play threat (605 yards, a district-leading 15.1 yards per carry, eight TDs). The meat of Escalon's schedule comes in weeks 9 and 10, with Modesto Christian and Ripon. Should the Cougars remain undefeated, coach Mark Loureiro would get his first chance at his 200th career win against MC.
RIPON (4-0). The Indians are doing it with defense (35 points allowed in four games) and contributions from everyone. While top running back Efren Sifuentes has suffered from a hamstring injury the last two games, Ryan Baker (369 yards, three TDs) has stepped in. With only two TVL teams going to the playoffs this year, every game is big. We'll find out more about Ripon in Week 7, when it travels to Modesto Christian (3-1). Looking at comparative scores, Ripon beat Argonaut 16-14 while MC won 50-42.
RIPON CHRISTIAN (4-0). There isn't a bigger surprise undefeated team in the entire Sac-Joaquin Section. These guys were 0-10 last year! What's been the key for the Knights? First, they've stayed healthy. Second, running back Will Heersink (415 yards) has found room to roam. And third, they've gotten the breaks. The Knights play a Saturday night game at Ripon against Escalon in Week 6.
HILMAR (4-0). The Yellowjackets weren't supposed to be the Western Athletic Conference's only undefeated team. But Hilmar is here because of a stout defense (two shutouts, 29 points allowed) and a spread offense that has a different hero each week. The defense has been a big surprise; it's only allowed two offensive scores. The Yellowjackets have a toughie at Argonaut (which has played MC and Ripon very tough) this week, followed by a Week 7 game at home against defending section champion Central Catholic. MARIPOSA (4-0). The Grizzlies join Manteca as the only teams that were also undefeated at this point last year. Fullback Kylan Brocchini (535 yards, seven touchdowns) is carrying the offensive load while the defense has allowed 20 points, shutting out two opponents. Should Mariposa defeat Summerville at the Mariposa County Fairgrounds on Friday night, the Grizzlies will be favored the remainder of the regular season.
BIG VALLEY CHRISTIAN (3-0). The Lions have never been in this position, although they've had a couple of winless seasons. They've scored 142 points in three victories, and running back Blake Sturdivan (427 yards, eight touchdowns) has been the featured guy. Most of the seniors on the roster are playing in their fourth varsity season for the Lions, and are finally reaping the benefits.
Will DeBoard's high schools column appears Thursdays. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, write him at P.O. Box 5256, Modesto, CA 95352-5256, call 578-2300 or fax 238-4551.