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'Bold or just bald?': Breaking down the first-round games in all seven divisions

James Burns
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The "second season" kicks off Thursday with a Division I battle between host Pitman and Davis-Yolo. The two will have the spotlight all to themselves before Friday's full slate. The FrontRowPreps.com region features 17 games across seven divisions, and each team is faced with the same stakes: Win or go home. Only three games pit regional teams against one another: Sierra at Pacheco in the Division IV bracket; Orestimba at Los Banos in D-V; and No. 10 Amador at No. 7 Hughson in D-VI.

Here's a closer look at all of this week's postseason openers, including our picks:

Division I

No. 9 Gregori (5-5) at No. 8 Edison (8-2): The Jaguars didn’t have the type of regular season they had hoped for, especially coming off a historic campaign in 2017. However, Gregori has to be encouraged by the first-round draw. Edison is the San Joaquin Athletic Association champion with a seven-game winning streak, but in games against similar opponents, the Jaguars have had the better results. Both teams were beaten by Buhach Colony and own a victory over Enochs. Gregori’s point differential in those two games is plus-33, while Edison’s is only plus-20.

Burns: Gregori

Cortez: Gregori

No. 12 Modesto (5-5) at No. 5 Sheldon (9-1): The Huskies are 6-1 against playoff-bound opponents, including victories over Cosumnes Oaks, Davis, Jesuit, Turlock, Elk Grove and Burbank. Sheldon defeated Turlock, the Central California Athletic League champion, 41-28. Modesto was blown out by the Bulldogs, 38-13. The loss was part of a late-season slide that saw the Panthers lose four of their last five regular-season games.

Burns: Sheldon

Cortez: Sheldon

No. 11 Cosumnes Oaks (4-6) at No. 6 Turlock (7-3): The Bulldogs roar into the postseason on a five-game winning streak, including a 33-0 drubbing of previously unbeaten Pitman in the Harvest Bowl. Turlock boasts one of the top defenses in the southern half of the Sac-Joaquin Section, marquee talent on both sides of the ball, and a dual-threat quarterback (Jonah Kosakiewicz) built for the spotlight. Cosumnes Oaks has lost two straight and finished near the bottom of the Delta League standings.

Burns: Turlock

Cortez: Turlock

No. 10 Davis at No. 7 Pitman (9-1): The Pride won’t have time to lick their wounds following a disappointing 33-0 loss to rival Turlock in the Harvest Bowl. The loss snapped Pitman’s season-long, nine-game winning streak, but it didn’t cost the Pride a home playoff game. Pitman hosts Davis of Yolo on Thursday, and the focus will be on slowing down Blue Devil junior Payne Barksdale who has 1,293 yards of total offense and 18 touchdowns. Davis has won two straight and finished in the middle of the pack in the Delta League.

Burns: Davis

Cortez: Pitman

Division II

No. 11 Downey (6-4) at No. 6 Grant (5-5): For the third time in six years the Knights are tasked with a road trip to Grant, a traditional Northern California powerhouse. Downey is 0-2 against the Pacers and it hasn’t been close. In 2014, Grant ran wild in a 63-21 victory. The year before, the Pacers won by a similar score of 52-14. Is this the year the Knights break through? The Central California Athletic League challenged Downey in ways the old Modesto Metro Conference never did, and the Knights possess a Division-I talent in Bryce Peterson. While Grant’s overall record isn’t impressive, all five of its losses are to teams ranked in MaxPreps’ California top-100: No. 7 Folsom, No. 15 Central of Fresno, No. 20 Del Oro, No. 50 Oak Ridge, and No. 66 Capital Christian.

Burns: Grant

Cortez: Grant

Division III

No. 9 Ponderosa (7-3) at No. 8 Buhach Colony (8-2): The Thunder finished second in the new-look Central California Conference and possess one of the region’s top all-around talents in Youlas Dickson, a budding Division I recruit. Dickson can impact a game on offense, defense and special teams. He has a team-high 10 touchdowns and has found the end zone in four different ways — rushing, receiving, interception return and kickoff return. Ponderosa finished below .500 in the Foothill Valley League and is 3-2 on the road. Friday’s trip will be much different than the others, though. The Bruins will spend at least two-and-a-half hours in a bus.

Burns: Buhach Colony

Cortez: Buhach Colony

No. 12 Burbank (6-4) at No. 5 Manteca (7-3): The Buffaloes have won five consecutive games with victories over two playoff opponents, Oakdale and Sierra. Since throwing a season-high four interceptions in a 19-14 victory over the Mustangs, junior quarterback Ryan Ward has settled into a groove. He has thrown 10 touchdowns against just two interceptions over the last four games. Burbank finished second in the Metropolitan League, dropping its only game to undefeated Monterey Trail. The Titans are anchored by Levelle Bailey, who has passed for 1,405 yards and 20 touchdowns and is second on the team in rushing with 722 yards.

Burns: Manteca

Cortez: Manteca

Division IV

No. 9 Sierra (5-5) at No. 8 Pacheco (8-2): The Panthers have enjoyed a historic season, capturing a share of the program’s first-ever league championship. Quarterback Marcus Ordunez has developed into a Western Athletic Conference MVP candidate. However, a Crosstown Clash loss may have cost Pacheco more than an outright league title. In the days after the loss, Pacheco coach David Snapp was forced to respond via social media to critics who called for his job as football coach. If the Panthers are distracted, they could fall victim to the Timberwolves. The last time Sierra qualified for the Division IV playoffs at 5-5 they won section and CIF State championships.

Burns: Pacheco

Cortez: Pacheco

No. 12 Valley (4-6) at No. 5 Oakdale (7-3): The Mustangs were thumped by Central Catholic in their regular season finale, 54-14. The loss dropped Oakdale into the Division IV bracket, where it has a much greater chance at making a run at the program’s sixth section title. The Mustangs have the horses to score with anyone in the bracket — sophomore Zeke Saffar, and seniors Max Moore and Caleb Kuppens, to name just a few — but they’ll need to tackle better than they did against Central Catholic.

Burns: Oakdale

Cortez: Oakdale

No. 11 Rosemont (6-4) at No. 6 Patterson (6-4): The Tigers finished third in the Central California Conference and are favored against Rosemont, but the best is yet to come for this young and explosive club. Quarterback Logan McCleerly and running back Jordan Imada are just sophomores and the cornerstones for coach Rob Cozart’s prolific “Spread ’em and Shred ’em” offense. Rosemont has won three consecutive games.

Burns: Patterson

Cortez: Patterson

No. 10 Cordova (5-5) at No. 7 Golden Valley (6-4): The resurgent Cougars are back in the postseason for the first time since 2006, but Golden Valley backs in on a two-game losing streak. Meanwhile, Cordova has turned its season around with a five-game winning streak and captured the Greater Sacramento championship.

Burns: Golden Valley

Cortez: Golden Valley

Division V

No. 9 Orestimba (7-3) at No. 8 Los Banos (7-3): One week after rivalries threatened to tear apart the West Side — Los Banos versus Pacheco and Orestimba versus Gustine — the postseason gives us another battle on the western edge of the coverage map. Los Banos has won six of its last sevens games, including a 28-21 triumph over Pacheco to earn a share of the WAC title. Orestimba endured one of its toughest seasons under coach Aaron Souza, but the Warriors will be chasing more than just a playoff win on Friday. Quarterback Jacob Bettencourt and wide receiver Tyler Vargas are closing in on school records.

Burns: Los Banos

Cortez: Los Banos

Division VI

No. 9 Bradshaw Christian (6-4) at No. 8 Argonaut (7-3): The Mustangs charge into the postseason with the wind of a two-game winning streak in their sails. Bradshaw Christian, however, missed on a chance to earn a share of the Sierra Valley Conference title with a 21-20 loss to Rosemont.

Burns: Argonaut

Cortez: Argonaut

No. 12 Waterford (6-4) at No. 5 Rio Vista (9-1): The Wildcats’ fast start has given way to a rocky finish. Waterford has lost three straight games and hasn’t fared well in big moments. The Wildcats were 0-4 against the top-four teams in the Southern League and were outscored 168-67 in those games. Friday’s opener against Rio Vista is as big as they come. Rio Vista is the defending Division VII champion and the winner of the Sierra Delta League.

Burns: Rio Vista

Cortez: Rio Vista

No. 11 Highlands (7-3) at No. 6 Calaveras (6-4): Jon Arbuckle rushed for 315 yards as Calaveras tuned up for the postseason with a 47-27 victory over “Big Game” rival Bret Harte. Calaveras began the season 0-3, but those losses came to Escalon, Modesto Christian and Ripon. With a win on Friday, Calaveras will get the chance to avenge its loss to Escalon, the No. 3 seed.

Burns: Calaveras

Cortez: Calaveras

No. 10 Amador (7-3) at No. 7 Hughson (5-5): The Huskies’ health is a major concern going into Friday’s postseason opener. Hughson used three quarterbacks in a loss to Escalon in last week’s regular-season finale. At full strength, the Huskies have proven they can play with larger schools, as well as handle the best the Mother Lode League has to offer. Hughson has victories over Stagg of Stockton and Argonaut. Amador faded early from the MLL title race and lost last week to Argonaut.

Burns: Amador

Cortez: Amador

Division VII

No. 5 Millennium (5-5) at No. 4 Gustine (5-5): This matchup features two of the top running backs in the southern half of the section. Millennium leans on Isaiah Woods, who has 1,920 yards and 25 touchdowns. Gustine swings back with Brandon Garbez, who has rushed for 1,333 yards and six TDs. Woods has nine 100-yard games and a season-high 340 yards in last week’s win over Stone Ridge Christian. Only Ripon Christian held him to fewer than 100 yards.

Burns: Gustine

Cortez: Gustine

Follow James Burns on Twitter @jburns1980, or email at frontrowpreps@gmail.com.