Which Stanislaus District football team is best positioned to get the Northern California berth in a state championship game?
It's not the team you're thinking of, unless you've been following Modesto Christian High and its highlight-reel of a quarterback, junior Isaiah Burse.
Yes, Merced, Manteca, Central Catholic, Patterson and -- after its 38-7 pasting of Patterson Friday night -- even Escalon is now watching the state bowl ratings.
MC, though, has an edge due to its enrollment. The Crusaders qualify for the small-school division, under 400 students, but they must win a section crown to be eligible for the state game.
MC likely would have to beat Trans-Valley League rival Escalon, and Western Athletic Conference favorites Central Catholic and Patterson in the playoffs. Those three other schools are eligible for the D-III bowl game.
There's a line of worthy contenders for the Division III game -- including private-school powers Cardinal Newman of Santa Rosa and Palma of Salinas -- but MC and North Coast power Ferndale are the only legitimate contenders in the smallest division.
Because of Ferndale's mediocre schedule, however, it should be an easy decision should MC run the gauntlet and get a title.
Meanwhile, in other divisions:
Merced (2-0) beat defending section D-I champ Napa 31-17 on the road and has a titanic test Friday when it visits state power Edison of Fresno (2-0) -- which is a Southern California team.
With De La Salle expected to be in the "open division," which intends to match the two top teams regardless of size, the D-I berth should come down to the Central Coast and Sac-Joaquin champs.
Bellarmine of San Jose (2-0) ripped powerful St. Mary's of Stockton 35-6 Thursday and is the clear Central Coast favorite.
Sonora (2-0) has suddenly become a contender in D-II -- Manteca also is 2-0, but is D-I -- but will likely have to go unbeaten if it hopes to beat out Valley Christian of San Jose, St. Mary's and St. Francis of Mountain View.
Escalon (2-0) played the underdog role to perfection leading up to the Patterson game, then manhandled the Tigers. The win thrusts the Cougars into the picture to the point that coach Mark Loureiro was planning on heading north Saturday to see Central Catholic face mighty Sutter.
HAWKS OR DOVES? -- The next two weeks will answer any questions about Central Valley. The Hawks (2-0) have 80 points in two games, but played mid-tier small schools who were helpless to stop their passing attack.
Trevor Mew has passed for 653 yards and six TDs, while Deangelo Williams has eight catches for 216 yards and 3 TDs. CV won its opener in 2007, then lost seven of its next eight while allowing an average of 32 points a game.
CV hosts Hilmar (2-0), a small school that has yet to be scored on, before opening the Valley Oak League at Oakdale. The Mustangs are 0-2, losing to two large schools, but throttled CV 42-7 and 42-6 in their only meetings.
A NEW LOOK -- Buhach Colony spiced up its 37-34 win over Beyer with a nifty two-point conversion play, said Bee Sports Editor Bill Poindexter. BC lined up two players wide right, the rest of the line wide left and the QB in a shotgun behind center and RB Corey Chapman behind the line. The QB took the snap and quick-pitched to Chapman, who ran behind the line for a 2-point play.
No surprise there: BC coach Kevin Swartwood is one of the district's brightest minds and has been coming up with innovative plays since he was working under the legendary Mark Speckman at Merced High in the '80s.
CAT SCRATCH FEVER -- For the second week in a row, Sonora overwhelmed a Modesto Metro Conference school. After scoring 27 fourth-quarter points to beat Johansen in its opener, the Wildcats dominated a larger Modesto High team and was up 35-0 lead before winning 42-21.
Just 4 minutes into the second half, Bee reporter Brian VanderBeek noted, Sonora led 285-46 in yardage and 14-3 in first downs.
Sonora's winning ways might lead to a new track and lights for its stadium, one of the prettiest in the district. It's selling $25 raffle tickets and the winner, to be drawn on Halloween, receives a new Subaru. The light poles, situated between the fans and the field, are decorated with signs that say "Make us disappear."
Sonora won the JV game 14-12 despite making 10 turnovers, VanderBeek noted. It scored the winning TD in the final 2 minutes after Modesto threw an interception (with the lead) in the final six minutes of the game.