High School Football

Lopez: Top Five Things to Watch entering the 2019 high school football season

After a long (that felt short) offseason, high school football returns Friday. Here are some things to watch in the upcoming season:

1. New Play Clock

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) announced in May new rule changes for the 2019 football season.

One of the notable rules is a 40-second play clock between downs in most instances.

Once a previous play has ended, the clock will automatically begin. It used to be 25 seconds from the time an official marked the ball ready for play. In some instances, like after a score and before a try, or coming out of a timeout, the 25-second rule will remain intact.

The play clock also will continue to start at 25 seconds at the beginning of a period or overtime series and after a referee has inadvertently blown his whistle.

“This is one of the most substantial game administration rules changes to be approved in the past 10 years, and without detailed experimentation from several state associations over the past three years, along with cooperation of the NFHS Football Game Officials Manual Committee, all the elements needed to approve this proposal would not have been in place,” Todd Tharp, assistant director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association and chair of the NFHS Football Rules Committee, said in a February press release.

The NFHS installed the 40-second play to maintain better consistency in all games.

“Horse-collar” tackles and tripping have also been prohibited as well.

Tripping will be called when a player intentionally lowers their leg or foot to obstruct a runner blow their knees. With horse-collar penalties, grabbing a player from their name-plate area of their jersey and pulling the runner to the ground is now an illegal contact penalty.

2. Week 2 of the Football Season

If there is one week where you should not make Friday night plans and instead go to a high school football game, it’s Week 2 (Aug. 30).

First, Central Catholic hosts De La Salle. The Spartans are one of the top teams in the nation and haven’t traveled to face a team in the Central Valley since 1991, when they beat Merced.

De La Salle beat Central Catholic, 35-7 last year in Concord but the Raiders trailed by only 14 after three quarters.

At Chuck Hughes Stadium, Downey hosts Manteca. The Knights scored with 12 seconds left last year to beat the Buffaloes, 44-42 on the road.

Some other notable games: Oakdale hosts Liberty-Brentwood (defending CIF State Division-1AA Champions) which return senior quarterback, Jay Butterfield, a University of Oregon commit. Patterson hosts Capital Christian, which won the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division III Championship in 2018. Edison has sophomore running back Raleek Brown, a national recruit with offers from Alabama, Michigan, Oklahoma, and USC among others. Edison is at Modesto Christian.

Other notable games include Sonora at Ripon, Merced at Gregori and Los Banos at Hilmar.

3. The second year of the Central California Athletic League and Western Athletic Conference

The first year of the CCAL was a struggle for the Modesto schools as Pitman and Turlock combined to go 8-0 against Downey, Enochs, Gregori, and Modesto. As we enter year two of the league, can the schools have success against the Bulldogs and Pride or will we see a repeat of last year?

The WAC was a great move football-wise for Beyer, Davis, and Johansen. Davis won four league games and won five overall, its most since 2014. Johansen won three, the Vikings’ most since 2011. While Beyer struggled and went 0-10, the Patriots have plenty of talent heading into the season. There was plenty of parity in the WAC in 2018 as three teams tied at 6-1.

4. Moving On to College

Some of the top players in the area last year have move on to play in college. Running back Dawaiian McNeely, who was the Bee’s Large School Player of the Year, is competing for one of the backup positions at the University of Wyoming.

Quarterback Xavier Rodriguez (Davis, Arizona Christian), wide receiver Bryce Peterson (Downey, UC Davis), and linebacker Garret Fountain (Turlock, San Diego State) all begin their freshman years.

Here are some other Stanislaus District alums in the last couple of years who could have big seasons:

Junior Linebacker Mustafa Johnson (Turlock, Colorado): Johnson was named first-team All-Pac-12 by the Associated Press and had 73 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss, and 8.5 sacks. He was named to the Bednarik Award Watch List, an award annually given to the NCAA defensive player of the year.

Senior tight end Jared Rice (Central Catholic, Fresno State): Rice, a second-team All-Mountain West selection, had 55 receptions for 664 yards and three touchdowns. He had the fourth-most receptions and sixth-most receiving yards among tight ends last year. Rice has been named to both the Biletnikoff (outstanding receiver) and Mackey (outstanding tight end) Awards Watch List.

Junior wide receiver Talolo Limu-Jones (Davis, Eastern Washington): Jones had seven receptions for 116 yards last year.

Junior defensive back Daron Bland (Central Catholic, Sacramento State): Bland started all 10 games and had 44 tackles.

Senior kicker Devon Medeiros (Hilmar, Sacramento State): Led the Hornets in scoring with 56 points and was 26-for-26 on extra points and made 10-of-15 field goals.

Senior running back Jay Green Jr. (Beyer, Southern Utah): Led the team with 829 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.

Sophomore linebacker Montell Bland (Central Catholic, UC Davis): Had 78 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss, and 2.5 sacks and was named to Phil Steele’s FCS Freshman All-American team.

Junior running back Devan Bass (Pitman, Modesto Junior College, Western Michigan): After 2,471 rushing yards and 33 touchdowns in two years at MJC, Bass begins his first season with the Broncos.

5. Playoff Format

This will be the second year with the playoff format adopted last year, when the section used CalPreps.com to decide the teams that make the playoffs in each division.

A school still must go 4-6 to qualify for the playoffs.

The tricky part remains with a school that is in a higher division than its enrollment.

For example, Oakdale is in a Div. III league but Div. IV enrollment-wise. So, like last year, if Oakdale doesn’t win the Valley Oak League, they will drop to Div. IV for the playoffs.

It also happened with Hilmar and Denair, which both were dropped to Div. VI and VII for the playoffs and won section titles.

League champions still receive automatic bids but there are no guaranteed bids after that. The CCAL had five teams make the postseason, some at 5-5.


Week 1 Schedule

Friday, Aug. 23

7 p.m.: Beyer at Enochs (Downey), Buhach Colony at Gregori, Modesto Christian at Sierra, Clovis West-Fresno at Central Catholic, Pitman at Clovis North-Fresno, Freedom-Oakley at Turlock, Central Valley at Ceres, Oakdale at Sonora, Tokay at Patterson, Union Mine-El Dorado at Escalon, Weston Ranch at Ripon, Bret Harte at Orestimba

7:15 p.m.: Downey at East Union, Hughson at Stagg-Stockton

7:30 p.m.: Waterford at Johansen, Davis at Ripon Christian, Millennium at Denair, Delhi at Hilmar

Saturday, Aug. 24

7 p.m.: Clovis-Fresno at Modesto, Riverbank at Big Valley Christian

Julian A. Lopez has been covering local sports for The Modesto Bee since August 2018. He graduated from Arizona State in 2016 with a BA in Journalism.