Sierra High quarterback Devin Nunez had a key touchdown pass to Hunter Johnson in Friday's win over Oakdale. (MICHAEL MCCOLLUM/FOR THE RECORD)
An autumn chill is finally here. That’s how you know high school football season is in its homestretch in Northern California.
There are three weeks left in the regular season, and several mammoth games remaining: St. Mary’s-Tracy, Sierra-Manteca and Lincoln-Tracy are all in the next two weeks.
My high school football power rankings are back, and this time, in addition to my usual top 5 – filled with large- and medium-sized schools – we’ll have a small-school power rankings. The only rule for the small schools for our coverage area is that they must have less than 1,000 students.
Here we go:
1. ST. MARY’S (1) 6-1, 2-0 TCAL
The Rams have done nothing but defend their top spot since beginning TCAL play, outscoring West and St. Mary’s by a combined 64 points. They beat Tokay 32-0 on homecoming Friday for their first shutout of the season.
Quarterback Noah Righetti seems to have found a rhythm, firing four touchdown passes Friday. St. Mary’s gets what could be its toughest league game Friday, heading to Tracy, last week’s No. 3.
ON FRIDAY: at Tracy (5-2, 2-0 TCAL), 7:15 p.m.
2. SIERRA (2) 7-0, 4-0 VOL
Another week, another historic win for the Timberwolves.
Sierra, which opened in 1994, got its first-ever home win over Oakdale, 31-20 Friday night. Junior running back Mark Paule Jr. scored three more touchdowns to make his season total 27 through seven games played.
Left on the schedule is East Union, Manteca and Weston Ranch. That Manteca game, on Halloween, is on the road, and the biggest test between Sierra, an outright VOL title and a shot at the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.
ON FRIDAY: vs. East Union (3-4, 2-2 VOL), 7 p.m.
3. TRACY (3) 5-2, 2-0 TCAL
The Bulldogs started slow at Lodi this week but handled business eventually, winning by two touchdowns.
Tracy will have to get its passing game going against a tremendous St. Mary’s front seven this week. As fast as Nate Jones is, he may not have much room to run.
ON FRIDAY: vs. St. Mary’s (6-1, 2-0 TCAL), 7:15 p.m.
4. LINCOLN (4) 4-3, 2-0 TCAL
The Trojans got a heck of a scare Friday in Tracy, fending off upstart West 14-6 despite dominating statistically. Lincoln cannot afford to miss on opportunities in its final two games against Tracy and St. Mary’s.
ON FRIDAY: vs. Tokay (4-3, 0-2 TCAL), 7:15 p.m.
5. MANTECA (5) 5-2, 2-2 VOL
Manteca took out its frustrations from the Levi’s Stadium loss to Oakdale by pouring out 55 points in a thrashing of Kimball on Friday.
The Buffaloes’ most impressive win, though, was still Week 0 at Santa Clara-Wilcox. Manteca must show something against Sierra in two weeks to help its playoff seeding.
ON FRIDAY: vs. Weston Ranch (2-5, 1-3 VOL)
ON THE BUBBLE: West (5-2, 0-2 TCAL) is worthy of some applause, I didn’t think it would be able to stack up to the TCAL’s best even after that great preseason, and it nearly beat Lincoln, a team with a whole lot of talent… Chavez (5-2, 2-0 SJAA) proved to be the class of the San Joaquin Athletic Association by doubling up Edison 40-20 Friday. Tailback Priest Jennings (1,377 rushing yards, leading the SJSCIF) is for real…
1. ESCALON (5-2, 2-0 TVL)
The Cougars’ losses, at home against a school about double its size in Patterson, and a tough road game to Grass Valley against Bear River, are both excusable.
Escalon is experienced, and its Wing-T offense is clicking behind senior rushers Wesley Dick and Christian May. Cougars coach Mark Loureiro has more wins (262) than any other coach in Sac-Joaquin Section history, plus three state titles.
ON FRIDAY: at Riverbank (1-6, 0-2 TVL), 7:30 p.m.
2. RIPON (3-4, 2-0 TVL)
Ripon had a grueling preseason, but has started preseason play by handling Hilmar and Riverbank. That means the Indians have a real shot at the playoffs, though Modesto Christian’s inclusion in the TVL makes life difficult.
ON FRIDAY: at Modesto Christian (6-1, 2-0 TVL), 7:30 p.m.
3. CALAVERAS (3-4, 2-1 MLL)
Calaveras tested itself in the preseason and was beat up, but has a chance to finish in the two spot behind Sonora in the MLL, though Amador is 3-0 as of now and in second place. Senior Connor Hamilton is one of the best small-school tailbacks in the section.
ON FRIDAY: vs. Summerville (5-3, 2-2 MLL), 7:30 p.m.
4. RIPON CHRISTIAN (5-2, 2-2 SL)
The Knights are grinding through their Southern League schedule, with losses at Le Grand, last year’s Div. V champion, and at Gustine, an on-the-rise likely playoff team.
ON FRIDAY: at Denair (2-5, 0-4 SL), 7:30 p.m.
5. ELLIOT CHRISTIAN (6-1, 3-0 CCAA)
The Eagles are on a six-game winning streak since losing their opener, and have a chance to be CCAA champions and have home game(s) in the Div. VII playoffs. Senior tailback Dominic Spadafore is one to watch.
ON SATURDAY: vs. Brookside Christian (4-3, 3-0 CCAA) at Lincoln High, 7 p.m.
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