History favors the Central Catholic football team in tonight's clash of the region's top large-school programs.
And so do we.
The Raiders (6-1, 3-0) are 6-0 all-time against the Buffaloes (7-0, 3-0), tops in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III and FrontRowPreps.com polls. Central Catholic is ranked No. 2 in the region and No. 3 in the section's Division II poll, published by MaxPreps.
It promises to be the biggest game of the regular season -- well, until Escalon and Ripon meet the following week -- and the differences between the two may be marginal. Central's edge, though, is in scheduling and experience.
While Manteca has challenged itself with regional heavyweights, like third-ranked Downey and No. 4 Turlock, Central Catholic has gone outside the area for its tests.
The Raiders have faced spread and run-heavy attacks and should not be surprised by anything Manteca does tonight. Central Catholic will have to neutralize the Buffaloes' skill players, most notably junior Blake Nichelson, a two-way dynamo who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards and scored 27 touchdowns.
"We've been ready to play every week," said Central Catholic coach Roger Canepa, whose strength of schedule is measured at 23.5 by MaxPreps' metrics, the strongest in the region. "We had a tough preseason. I'm an old-school guy. I want to make sure we have one of the tougher preseason schedules every year, so when we get to league and to the playoffs we're ready to play. It's about playing people to get better and we've done a good job of that. We've put them in tough spots."
The Raiders haven't backed down from a fight. Central Catholic began the season with consecutive wins over Merced, St. Mary's, its Holy Bowl rival, and San Ramon Valley. The Raiders suffered their only loss to San Jose's Bellarmine College Prep, 28-21, but have rolled over their first three Valley Oak League opponents -- Weston Ranch, Oakdale and Kimball -- by a combined score of 138-30.
Tonight marks different points in the chase for a VOL crown for both Manteca and Central Catholic. The Buffaloes are at the start of the gauntlet -- Central Catholic, Kimball and Oakdale -- while the Raiders look to go 3-0 against the VOL's brass.
In a 55-16 thrashing of once-unbeaten Kimball, Central Catholic controlled the Jaguars' dynamic passing attack. Defensive backs Nolan Croasdale, Jaelen Nichols, Elijah Robinson and Roland Brown held Kimball quarterback Nicholas Coronado to a season-low 70.3 rating. He completed less than 50 percent of his passes.
"Our point of focus was to score every time we had the ball and to make sure they were tired. We wanted those guys at wide receiver to tackle our guys. That's how you beat them," Canepa said. "We did a good job of getting onside kicks and controlling the tempo of the game."
FRIDAY, OCT. 15
Central California Athletic League
Downey at Enochs (Johansen H.S.) 7 p.m. Burns: Downey Cortez: Downey
Pitman at Gregori, 7 p.m. Burns: Gregori Cortez: Gregori
Modesto at Turlock, 7 p.m. Burns: Turlock Cortez: Turlock
Central California Conference
Central Valley at Atwater, 7 p.m. Burns: Atwater Cortez: Atwater
Buhach Colony at Merced (Golden Valley H.S.), 7 p.m. Burns: Merced Cortez: Merced
Golden Valley at Patterson, 7 p.m. Burns: Patterson Cortez: Patterson
Valley Oak League
Manteca at Central Catholic, 7 p.m. Burns: Central Catholic Cortez: Central Catholic
East Union at Weston Ranch, 7 p.m. Burns: East Union Cortez: East Union
Sierra at Kimball, 7 p.m. Burns: Kimball Cortez: Kimball
Western Athletic Conference
Los Banos at Ceres, 7 p.m. Burns: Los Banos Cortez: Ceres
Davis at Beyer (Downey H.S.), 7 p.m. Burns: Davis Cortez: Davis
Johansen at Lathrop, 7 p.m. Burns: Lathrop Cortez: Lathrop
Mountain House at Pacheco, 7 p.m. Burns: Pacheco Cortez: Pacheco
Escalon at Riverbank, 7 p.m. Burns: Escalon Cortez: Escalon
Hughson at Hilmar, 7 p.m. Burns: Hilmar Cortez: Hilmar
Livingston at Modesto Christian, 7 p.m. Burns: Livingston Cortez: Livingston
Mother Lode League
Summerville at Argonaut, 7 p.m. Burns: Summerville Cortez: Argonaut
Amador at Calaveras, 7 p.m. Burns: Calaveras Cortez: Calaveras
Delhi at Denair, 7:15 p.m. Burns: Delhi Cortez: Denair
Gustine at Le Grand, 7:15 p.m. Burns: Le Grand Cortez: Le Grand
Mariposa at Ripon Christian, 7:15 p.m. Burns: Ripon Christian Cortez: Ripon Christian
Orestimba at Waterford, 7:15 p.m. Burns: Waterford Cortez: Waterford
Central California Athletic Alliance
Millennium at Big Valley Christian, 7 p.m. Burns: Big Valley Christian Cortez: Big Valley Christian
SATURDAY, OCT. 16
Central California Athletic Alliance
Stone Ridge Christian at Delta Charter, 11 a.m. Burns: Stone Ridge Christian Cortez: Stone Ridge Christian