Seventy-two of the 128 teams in the section will go to playoffs, including 16 teams each in divisions I, II, III and IV, with divisions based on the schools’ enrollment numbers.
All league champions and runners-up — 40 teams in Divisions I to IV — go to playoffs, and 24 more teams will qualify as at-large teams based on their overall records.
Four league champions and four runners up from divisions V and VI will go into those divisions’ six-team brackets, as will four at-large teams.
Teams that go 6-4 or better will make playoffs. Last year, the section had 11 teams that qualified for at-large berths with 5-5 records. Two teams that qualified with 4-6 overall records, Dixon and Marysville, were the Golden Empire League champion and runner-up.
Tracy (3-2) has the best head start among local teams in the pre-league season, as they begin play in the San Joaquin Athletic Association and aim for the SJS Division II bracket.
The toughest competition for the Bulldogs historically has been Lincoln (2-3), and Tracy head coach Matt Shrout said this year is no exception. The Trojans come to town Oct. 19 for Tracy’s homecoming game.
Shrout took the opportunity during Tracy’s bye week Friday, Sept. 28, to see how the Trojans looked against defending SJS Division I champion Granite Bay.
Granite Bay won it 42-14, but Shrout said Lincoln matched up well.
“They’ve got athletes all over the field,” Shrout said. “They’ve been playing really tough teams. Lincoln’s the (league) frontrunner, like they always are. There’s no surprise there.”
He added that he expects the other SJAA teams will be competitive, but he also figures the Bulldogs’ pre-league games got the players ready, including the two losses to start the season and then three wins to boost the players’ confidence.
The Bulldogs offense is averaging nearly 332 yards per game, including 71.4 yards per game for senior quarterback Luke Hanna and 108.6 yards rushing per game for fullback Bruce Russell.
Shrout added that the defense is also is eager to get into league play.
“They feel like they’re one of the better defenses around,” Shrout said. “They have a chip on their shoulder, and they’re ready to play.”
Tracy opens the league season in Stockton on Friday, Oct. 5, against Franklin (0-5).
Other SJAA teams are Chavez (2-3), Bear Creek (1-4) and Lodi (0-5).
Kimball could make the Division II playoffs if the Jaguars turn their season around in the next five games of Valley Oak League play.
The Jaguars (1-4, 0-2 VOL) already have games against Manteca (3-2, 2-0 VOL) and defending VOL champion Oakdale (4-1, 2-0 VOL) behind them.
Kimball Coach Steve Anastasio said Friday’s home game against Sonora (3-2, 2-0 VOL) and the Oct. 12 home game against Sierra (4-1, 1-1 VOL) will show if the Jaguars have a chance to make playoffs.
“We have to play the four toughest teams right off the bat,” Anastasio said of the VOL schedule. “Every week is a tough week.”
He added that East Union (1-4, 1-1 VOL), Weston Ranch (2-3, 0-2 VOL) and Lathrop (0-5, 0-2 VOL) also could come up with surprises.
“You can’t take anything for granted,” Anastasio said. “We just have to play one game at a time.”
Kimball had senior quarterback Zack Johnson back for the Manteca and Oakdale games.
Senior running backs Evan Owens and Alex Toledo also anchor the Jaguars offense, but junior running back Gaige Allen, who started the season as the team’s rushing leader, suffered a knee injury against Manteca, and Anastasio said Allen probably won’t be back this year.
Millennium (1-4) has to finish well in the Central California Athletic Alliance if the Falcons are to make their fourth consecutive trip to playoffs.
The Falcons went to the SJS Division V playoffs in 2011 after going 10-0 and winning their league title. They lost to Highlands in the first round of playoffs, 54-6.
Millennium head coach Jayson Dias expects the league season will show if Millennium’s pre-league schedule will pay off.
“We’ll be very competitive and have a good shot at making a run for it,” Dias said. “The advantage we have is that our preseason schedule was much more difficult than the other guys in our league.”
Millennium faces its top league rival, Brookside Christian (3-2) of Stockton, in the last game of the regular season Nov. 3, a Saturday.
Other teams in Millennium’s league are Elliot Christian (4-1), Big Valley Christian (1-4), Sierra Ridge-Rite of Passage (1-4) and Stone Ridge Christian (1-4) of Merced, against whom the Falcons open their league season Saturday, Oct. 6, at
Dias is confident that Millennium’s players are all healthy after some players missed pre-league games because of injuries.
Senior Austin Larson, originally slated to play quarterback at the start of the season, has recovered from injuring his Achilles tendon during the Sept. 1 game against Amador. Since then, the team’s backup quarterback, senior Gavin Compton, has become a solid leader on the field.
“Our last game, he did a good job of controlling the game and managing the ball,” Dias said. “He didn’t need to pass so much, because we were running so well, and the passes he had to make he made.”
Larson is back to being a lineman, as he was for his first three seasons with the Falcons.
“With him there, it makes the line that much more solid,” Dias said.
West Wolf Pack
West (0-5) must make a dramatic turnaround if the Wolf Pack is to make it back to playoffs.
West got into the Division I playoffs in 2011 with a 6-4 record when the school finished as the 2011 Tri-City Athletic League runner-up with a 4-1 league record. The team was knocked out in the first round with a 35-14 loss to Pitman of Turlock.
West High coach Matt Loggins acknowledges that a relatively young team, especially on the offensive line, and a lack of depth have left West at a disadvantage this year.
“I hope we keep fighting and keep preparing well,” Loggins said. “We’re limited with numbers and experience, and that’s still not changing.”
Wolf Pack quarterback Bobby Landrum has been able to pass for significant gains, and running backs D.J. Villasenor and Kepa Saaga have led the rushing game. But most of the game time goes to West’s defense, which has held up well enough to keep games mostly within reach.
“There are a lot of kids on this team that are working hard and getting better,” Loggins said.
TCAL opponents include St. Mary’s (3-2), the defending champion, and Stagg (5-0), Tokay (5-0) and Edison (2-3). West opens the league season at home Friday against McNair (4-1).
• Contact Bob Brownne at 830-4227 or email@example.com.