The high school football nonleague season can be a bizarre match-up of different teams with different styles from different cities or even different sections.
Before the new San Joaquin Athletic Association and Tri-City Athletic League were formed, the preseason was at least a good time for rivals like St. Mary’s and Lincoln, West and Tracy or Tokay and Lodi to play. But no more. Those are league games.
With that in mind, there are five nonleague games in the area which stand out above the rest this year. There are more good ones, but these stood out to me most:
WEEK ZERO (Aug. 28)
Lincoln at Stagg, 7:15 p.m.
In a rematch of last year’s 34-14, season-opening Trojans win at Spanos Stadium, a faster, smaller Lincoln team comes to face Stagg, reloaded, more experienced and deeper than a year ago.
With a better squad overall, and home-field advantage, expect Stagg not only to make it closer, but push Lincoln deep into this game.
The atmosphere should be bonkers yet again, as it was at jam-packed Spanos last year. It was muggy, it was intense and the Lincoln Lunatics were deafening. I expect no less a few miles away.
Players to Watch: Lavante Bushnell (Stagg QB, Sr.), Ronald Walker (Lincoln RB, Sr.), Cutrell Haywood (Stagg WR/DB, Jr.), Cameron Crump (Lincoln DB/WR, Sr.)
WEEK 2 (Sept. 11)
Central Catholic at St. Mary’s, 7:15 p.m.
The “Holy Bowl” rivalry was epic down in Modesto last year. The Rams, who would become the outright TCAL champions and a Sac-Joaquin Section Division II finalist, beat the Raiders, now three-time defending CIF State champions, on a last-minute bootleg touchdown from Noah Righetti: 18-13.
This season, Central Catholic may not be as deep as years past, but its starting talent is phenomenal, with WR/ATH Justin Rice and QB Hunter Petlansky, among others. After a Week Zero bye and a Week 1 trip to Santa Rosa-Cardinal Newman, the Rams will be stoked that their home opener is a rivalry game.
Players to Watch: Dewey Cotton (St. Mary’s WR/KR, Jr.), Hunter Petlansky (Central Catholic QB/Sr.), Popo Aumavae (St. Mary’s OL, Jr.), Justin Rice (Central Catholic WR/RB/ATH, Jr.), Keaton Hampton (St. Mary’s WR/CB, Jr.)
Elk Grove at Lincoln, 7:15 p.m.
This matchup doesn’t carry the same weight at the Holy Bowl, but it’s a great barometer for the Trojans, who are trying to overcome consecutive 4-6 seasons. Elk Grove, which St. Mary’s beat 23-15 in a Div. II semifinal last year, is a smashmouth powerhouse. This is the night for Lincoln senior Rodney Jones, who reportedly has an offer from UNLV, to shine as quite possibly the top defensive lineman in the area.
Players to Watch: Rodney Jones (Lincoln DL, Sr.), Tyler Vander Waal (Elk Grove QB, Jr.), Ronald Walker (Lincoln RB, Sr.), Ryan Robards (Elk Grove WR, Sr.), Cameron Crump (Lincoln DB, Sr.)
WEEK 4 (Sept. 25)
Turlock at Tracy, 7:15 p.m.
On the surface, this seems like a standard, San Joaquin County vs. Stanislaus County preseason game. But after last year, this battle of two teams known as the “Bulldogs” comes with a storyline.
Tracy beat Turlock by three on the road in a preseason game in 2014, as quarterback Michael Brown went off with three touchdown passes, a rarity for a Tracy team that runs the veer.
And, No. 7 Tracy nipped No. 10 Turlock 21-19 in a Div. I first-round playoff. Ironically, it was Tracy’s worst-played game in the whole postseason, and the only one it was probably favored in. Tracy went on to upset No. 2 Jesuit 48-38 and No. 3 Granite Bay 27-21 in overtime before a 55-7 blowout loss to No. 1 Folsom in the finals.
Players to Watch: Courtney “C.J.” Hawkins (Tracy FB, Sr.), Brandon Booz (Turlock RB, Sr.)
McNair at Tokay (Grape Bowl), 7:15 p.m.
Last season was a miserable one for the new SJAA against the new TCAL. SJAA teams went 0-10 against the TCAL, and the eventual outright SJAA champion Chavez lost to West, which went winless and finished last in the TCAL, 50-28. There was a close call or two, like Lodi’s 26-22 win over Edison, but it was mostly a destruction.
McNair will struggle with Tokay’s depth and some of its defensive playmakers, but this could be a chance for the Eagles to make a statement in an intradistrict road game.
Last season, Tokay throttled McNair 61-28 on the road behind five rushing touchdowns from quarterback Grayson Dillon and 120 rushing yards from tailback Jeff Evans.
Players to Watch: Osai Brown (McNair QB, Sr.), Jeff Evans (Tokay RB, Sr.), Derrion Grim (McNair WR, Sr.), Nick Arnaiz (Tokay FS/LB, Sr.), Noah Faatau (McNair LB/RB, Sr.)
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