High School Football

Modesto’s Central Catholic, Manteca’s Sierra brace for huge tests

For the second week in a row, Central Catholic faces a stiff Valley Oak League test.

After going overtime to beat Manteca 29-28 last week at David Patton Field, Central Catholic of Modesto (3-1) takes to the road this week to face Sierra of Manteca (4-0), The Bee’s top-ranked large-school team.

The Timberwolves, meanwhile, have yet to be tested this season, winning by an average margin of 44 points.

Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. at Sierra High.

Central Catholic has been in a pair of knock-down, drag-out fights this season – an 18-13 loss to St. Mary’s of Stockton and last week’s thriller against Manteca. The Sierra Timberwolves, meanwhile, have yet to be tested this season, having beaten their opponents by an average of 44 points per game.

“We can sit here and say that we’ve played two great football teams and lost one right and the end and won one,” coach Roger Canepa said. “So when you play a team that hasn’t been in tough games, is that the ingredient for winning? I don’t know.

“We’ve been tested; the good thing is our guys have had to play four quarters hard. But, it also takes its toll; we’re a little banged up. So which is better? I don’t know.”

Raiders running back Montell Bland sat out last week with an ankle injury, as did cornerback/wide reciver Nic Navarro. They’ll be game-time decisions. Offensive lineman Kyle Todd, who had been injured, is back.

Somewhat comforting to Canepa is the fact that Sierra runs the same spread offense used by St. Mary’s and Atwater high schools, meaning his Raiders have prepared for the scheme back-to-back weeks to start the season.

The Timberwolves, much like St. Mary’s, have size – linemen Joshua Fala (6-6, 335) and Jacob Gullett (6-4, 305) are mountains – and speed – running back Mark Paule Jr. leads the Sac-Joaquin Section’s in rushing (909 yards) and scoring (22 TDs). Linebacker Trevon McCray, meanwhile, is coming off a game against Kimball in which he had four sacks and forced three fumbles. Canepa compared McCray to St. Mary’s standout Khalil Hodge.

MODESTO (5-0) at DOWNEY (4-1), 7:30 p.m. – It’s the 60th anniversary of the first meeting between these schools, and this one figures to be an offensive showcase. As Downey head coach Jeremy Plaa said, “The score might end up 80-79.”

Both teams possess top quarterbacks in the Stanislaus District. Modesto’s Nate Phillips has completed 71 percent of his passes for 225 yards per game, with 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He’s also the Panthers’ leading rusher with 136 yards per game. Downey is led by senior P.J. Wilson, who has completed 65 percent of his passes for 256 yards per game this year with 16 touchdown passes and four interceptions.

“Both are elusive in the pocket and will buy time, but both will take off and run on you, too,” said Plaa. “It’ll be fun. We’ve had this one circled on our calendar for a while.”

GREGORI (3-1) at BEYER (1-4), 7:30 p.m. (Johansen H.S.) – If you’re a fan of the running game, this is probably the game for you. Gregori’s Demetrius Vinson, who is averaging 117 yards rushing per game this season, hasn’t seen much action the last two weeks in blowouts against seniorless El Capitan (eight carries for 88 yards) and East Union (six carries for 38 yards). He’s sure to see more action this week, as will Beyer’s Jay Green. The Patriots junior rushed for 1,000-plus yards as a sophomore and is on pace to do it again this year (108 yards per game). Vinson rushed for 220 yards in his varsity debut Aug. 29 against Chavez and Green totaled 237 against Central Catholic on Sept. 19.

RIPON CHRISTIAN (4-0) at LE GRAND (2-2), 7:30 p.m. – To be the best you’ve got to beat the best. The unbeaten Knights smell blood in the water. Le Grand, the four-time defending Sac-Joaquin Section Division V champion and a participant in the title game for five straight years, is off to a shaky 2-2 start.

EDISON (1-3) at MODESTO CHRISTIAN (3-1), 7:30 p.m. – This just in: Mike Parsons can coach a little. Parsons guided the Crusaders to the 2009 CIF Small School championship, then took Clovis West (Fresno) to a Central Section crown the following year. He’s back at MC after four seasons away and has the team riding high again. If not for a 23-22 loss at Capital Christian of Sacramento, ranked third by Cal-Hi Sports in the NorCal Division IV bowl rankings behind Central Catholic and McClymonds of Oakland, the Crusaders would be 4-0 and, probably, No. 1 in The Bee’s Small School rankings.

NORTH SALINAS (2-1) at PITMAN (3-0), 7:30 p.m. (Turlock H.S.) – The Pride will play just their second game since Sept. 5, thanks to a bye and Pacific Grove dropping them from its schedule. Meanwhile, the Vikings, who got under way on Sept. 5 this year and have already had a bye, also are playing just their fourth game of the year. Both teams start league play a week later..