San Joaquin County Football: Bracket of Champions

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St. Mary's safety Tre Jenkins III, left, and Manteca lineman Justin Kakala are two of San Joaquin County's best returning football players in 2017. [PHOTOS BY CRAIG SANDERS, PHOTO EDIT BY ELIZABETH ROBERTS

Imagine if we could take away all of those less-interesting, nonleague football games, and settle who owns San Joaquin County once-and-for-all.

How sweet would that be? Well, in the make believe world of summertime blogging, we’re making it come to life.

I’ve crafted an eight team, San Joaquin County Showdown championship bracket. The seeds I’ve given to teams, which were largely drawn from my final power rankings of 2016, are almost exclusively based on last year’s results. For close calls, though, I used a bit of the team’s outlook for this year and its continuity as a program in general.

Before Stocktonians get upset that there are no San Joaquin Athletic Association teams, you must first look at the recent head-to-head matchups with the Valley Oak League and Tri-City Athletic League. Last year, for example, the team that finished seventh place out of eight VOL teams (Weston Ranch) beat the third-place finisher in the SJAA (Bear Creek) by over 50 points.

Bear Creek had beaten league champion Stagg by a point earlier in the season. That’s too big of a number to ignore. Plus, the TCAL’s top three (St. Mary’s, Tracy and Lincoln) has not been touched against the SJAA in the past three years.

Without further ado, here’s a quick rundown of the top eight seeds, with their record last year in parenthesis:

1. ST. MARY’S (14-2, 5-0 TCAL)

This is a no-brainer. The Rams cruised to Tri-City Athletic League and Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championships (seriously, the DI final against Folsom was 56-25), won a NorCal Division 1-AA bowl and were inches away from taking the state championship against San Diego-Cathedral Catholic (a 38-35 loss in overtime). The Rams will a slew of graduated seniors, but return Division I talents like running back Dusty Frampton, two-way star Tre Jenkins III and lineman Max Barth.

2. MANTECA (12-2, 6-1 VOL)

The Buffs were a junior-laden team last year, but managed to split a VOL championship with Oakdale (which Manteca beat) and Modesto-Central Catholic. Manteca hammered Auburn-Placer in the section’s Division IV final and lost to Menlo-Atherton in the Division 3-AA regional bowl game. The Buffaloes return superb talents like quarterback Gino Campiotti and lineman  Justin Kakala (who could be playing for Cal next season).

3. TRACY (5-6, 4-1 TCAL)

Never let the Bulldogs’ overall record fool you. Many of those losses were to excellent nonleague teams (plus St. Mary’s in the regular season and Carmichael-Jesuit in the playoffs). Tracy returns key pieces like quarterback Josh Alvarado, fullback Mason Sarsfield, defensive lineman Bolaji Akinyemi and linebacker Kristien Reyes. Tracy has a great chance to be TCAL runner-up once again, and will keep it closer against St. Mary’s than last season’s drubbing.

4.LINCOLN (5-6, 3-2 TCAL)

The Trojans proved that their offense could score, and quickly, under new coach Anthony Martinez. While quarterback Aaron Thomas, tight end Miquan Maxey and receiver Izaiah Celestine are gone from that unit, they have plenty of playmakers. The quarterback should be either junior Grant Stevenson or senior Quinton Gaines, and tailback William Jones III and receiver Merle Bass could have big seasons. Lincoln’s story will be decided in its last two weeks: hosting Tracy (Week 9) and St. Mary’s (Week 10).

5. EAST UNION (6-5, 3-4 VOL)

Head coach Willie Herrera, behind third-year starting quarterback Jack Weaver, guided the Lancers to just their third section playoff appearance in 25 years last fall. East Union earned key wins over Lathrop and Weston Ranch, and took rival Sierra to overtime. Weaver and fellow Lions North All-Stars Jake Harries, Andy Parcells and Joseph Reynaga have graduated, but the continuity of Herrera’s staff and the optimism from a playoff run remain. That continuity gives East Union the slight nod over No. 6.

6. SIERRA (6-5, 3-4 VOL)

The era of head coach Jeff Harbison came to a close after 12 years, a tenure that included a 2015 state championship. Sierra made the playoffs again in 2016, but had an up-and-down year, and lost two of its best three players due to violating team rules during the second half of the season. Take virtually any high school team, and it’ll be difficult to recover from that. In comes Chris Johnson, two years removed from 12 seasons coaching his alma mater Ripon High. Johnson is passionate, honest, and guess what? He gets to open his Sierra reign against Ripon on Aug. 25 at home.

7. LATHROP (4-6, 3-4 VOL)

The Spartans proved late in the season, with wins over Sierra and Weston Ranch, that close losses earlier on to Hilmar and Elk Grove-Franklin really hurt this group that had a lot of potential. Lathrop was the top seed in the Division IV playoffs in 2015 (though it did lose in the first round to No. 8 Los Banos). The Spartans have some nice continuity, and can return seniors in quarterback Keonnee Linnell and tailback Michael Ramos. Third-year coach Joe Pirillo (a Manteca High graduate who played for coach Eric Reis) has vastly improved what is a young program that had never won before his tenure.

8. WESTON RANCH (4-6, 1-6 VOL)

Weston Ranch had another strong preseason in 2016, going 3-0, but the VOL can be a tough place for a program on the rise. The Cougars have showed strong lines, an ability to run the ball and a playmaking defense, but have yet to find footing in the passing game. Still, Weston Ranch has grown the past couple years and brings back a very good running back in senior Cori Floyd. Weston Ranch lost by one touchdown in Week 10 to Sierra last season. What’s changed since last year? Head coach Seth Davis (Manteca High product, also played for Reis) had his first child: a daughter named Cadence.

Alright, take a deep breath. Have a sip of water. Maybe make a sandwich.

Ready? Let’s get back into it.

Here are my quick projections for what would ensure in these games. For fun, we could have a neutral site championship game (Spanos Stadium is the prettiest venue around here) or we could see if Levi’s Stadium is available.

COUNTY QUARTERFINALS

No. 8 Weston Ranch at No. 1 St. Mary’s

The Cougars are trying to make a name for themselves. They’d be fired up. They might sprint all the way from the French Camp Road exit of I-5 to Sanguinetti Field on El Dorado Street. And it would show early. The defense would make a stop or two, and Floyd would break free for a touchdown. But eventually – probably late in the first or early in the second quarter – the Rams’ depth and offensive versatility would grab control and win big.

No. 5 East Union at No. 4 Lincoln

This is a fascinating matchup. The VOL has certainly had better depth than the TCAL, especially last year. The second- or third-tier teams a year ago like East Union, Sierra and Lathrop were far better than the TCAL’s bottom rung. East Union has a good ability to run (which Lincoln struggled with) last year, and can stop the run. But, in the second year of the Martinez tenure, and with some legitimate offensive firepower, the Trojans could afford to make a few mistakes and allow some early big runs. Lincoln starts slow but wins by multiple touchdowns.

No. 6 Sierra at No. 3 Tracy

A great test for the new coach Johnson, but coach Matt Shrout’s team would hold onto the football and allow Alvarado and Sarsfield to slowly ruin Sierra’s spirits. The Timberwolves would strike a couple times – probably a touchdown catch or two from senior Jacob Peterson – but overall the Bulldogs would own the night.

No. 7 Lathrop at No. 2 Manteca

I really tried to avoid a league matchup, especially in the first round, but five VOL teams made that impossible. I’m sure Pirillo and Reis wouldn’t be happy about two matchups in one year, BUT THIS IS MY TOURNAMENT OKAY? Manteca wins handily, like it did during last year’s VOL season, but Linnell and Ramos give the Buffs’ defense trouble occasionally.

COUNTY SEMIFINALS

No. 4 Lincoln at No. 1 St. Mary’s

The Rams would win their 14th in a row in the series. Lincoln’s skill position players, and some of their linemen, have been able to match St. Mary’s well the past few years. But the Rams’ offensive line bullied the Trojans last year, and Frampton is still around to put up a spectacular game.

No. 3 Tracy at No. 2 Manteca

This is what I’m talking about. Two of the top three public school programs in San Joaquin County, going head-to-head with some excellent history between the two. You’ve got seven combined section championships here (five for Manteca and two for Tracy), and a game that used to be a yearly contest. After all, Tracy used to be in the VOL, too. This would be an excellent matchup between two teams that love running the ball and stopping the run. Tracy’s veer would be a bit different than some of what Manteca’s used to (like Oakdale’s Wing-T), and the lines would be well-matched. In the end, Manteca’s ability to pass (Campiotti) and its experienced linemen Kakala, Kyle Reis and Mateo Fernandez would make the difference. Buffs 28, Bulldogs 27.

SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY SUPER BOWL

No. 2 Manteca at No. 1 St. Mary’s

A whole lot of green. The parochial power against a public school that’s over 100 years old. Eight section titles and three NorCal bowl game appearances between the two teams. St. Mary’s coach Tony Franks and Manteca’s Eric Reis have 33 seasons between them in their posts (Franks 15 in a row, 18 overall and Reis 15 overall, all in a row). Plus, the two have a combined 305 victories between them (Franks is at 167, Reis at 138). Manteca has several players that could be difference-makers on a large-school power like St. Mary’s, too (and before parents get on me, I don’t care what St. Mary’s student enrollment is. This program is a large-school power). But the Rams’ depth and speed compared to some of the teams the Buffaloes would face in the VOL would be too much.

No surprise, but still an accomplishment, defending NorCal champion St. Mary’s would win the San Joaquin County title before embarking on Tri-City Athletic League play.

CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE

Twitter: @RecordPreps

Facebook: Thomas Lawrence

Email: tlawrence@recordnet.com

Phone: 209-546-8272

Ask a Question: ask.fm/RecordPreps

 

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    Thomas Lawrence

    Lawrence became a prep and general assignment sports reporter for The Record in August 2014. He has covered high school, college and professional sports and more in his career. From November of 2011 through summer 2014, he covered college and prep ... Read Full
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