From left, coaches James Peterson of Turlock (vs. Freedom), Jeremy Plaa of Downey (at East Union) and Roger Canepa of Central Catholic (vs. Clovis West) have tough opening night tests, but the most intriguing game on Aug. 23, 2019 belongs to Oakdale-Sonora, according to a fan vote.

Bold or just bald? Why the No. 1 teams in the region could be in trouble Friday

James Burns
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The Hilmar football team has been No. 1 in FrontRowPreps.com's small-school poll for the last three weeks, but history suggests the Yellowjackets' four-game winning streak and place atop the mountain could be in jeopardy on Friday evening.

Third-ranked Ripon has beaten Hilmar in three of their last four meetings, including 34-28 last fall. The Yellowjackets combat that history — and the Indians' stingy defense — with a versatile, fast-action star in Isaac Sharp, who had 320 yards of total offense against Sonora last week.

Hilmar-versus-Ripon, the Trans-Valley League's over-the-top season opener, is the Chicken Ranch Casino Game of the Week.

Further south, Manteca looks to rewrite its own bit of woeful recent history.

Fresh off a resounding victory over Tracy, first-year coach Mark Varnum said the Buffaloes (2-2) look to "shock the world again" with their first victory over Central Catholic (3-1) since the Raiders joined the Valley Oak League. 

That's not to say Manteca, a two-time defending Sac-Joaquin Section champion and one of the most decorated public-school programs south of Sacramento, hasn't come oh-so close. 

In 2014, the Buffaloes strutted onto David Patton Field and pushed Central Catholic, then a reigning CIF State champion, into overtime before losing on a spirited run by Justin Rice, who would go onto produce back-to-back 2,000-yard seasons. 

Last fall, Manteca and eventual VOL MVP Gino Campiotti, now a freshman quarterback at Northern Arizona University, moved the ball against the Raiders' defense, but they turned the ball over three times at the 1-yard line in a 31-14 loss.

"It's Central week," Varnum said, "we know what we need to do."

The Buffaloes may be shorthanded. Record-setting running back Trabron Russell is still doubtful after suffering a high ankle sprain and may miss his second full game. If he can't go, fellow junior Jacob DeJesus may reprise his role as Manteca's main ball carrier. The shifty and diminutive DeJesus, a FrontRowPreps.com athlete of the week candidate this week, had 215 yards of total offense and three TDs against Tracy.

Here's the rest of the Week 4 schedule, complete with kickoff times, our predictions and to-date standings:

CENTRAL CALIFORNIA CONFERENCE
Merced at Central Valley, 7 p.m. Burns: Merced Cortez: Merced
Atwater at El Capitan, 7 p.m. Burns: Atwater Cortez: Atwater
Patterson at Buhach Colony, 7 p.m. Burns: Buhach Colony Cortez: Buhach Colony

VALLEY OAK LEAGUE
Manteca at Central Catholic, 7 p.m. Burns: Central Catholic Cortez: Central Catholic
Oakdale at East Union, 7 p.m. Burns: Oakdale Cortez: Oakdale
Sierra at Kimball, 7 p.m. Burns: Sierra Cortez: Sierra

WESTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
Los Banos at Beyer, 7 p.m. Burns: Los Banos Cortez: Los Banos
Ceres at Lathrop, 7 p.m. Burns: Lathrop Cortez: Lathrop
Davis at Mountain House, 7 p.m. Burns: Mountain House Cortez: Mountain House
Johansen at Pacheco 7 p.m. Burns: Pacheco Cortez: Pacheco

TRANS-VALLEY LEAGUE
Hilmar at Ripon, 7:30 p.m. Burns: Hilmar Cortez: Hilmar
Hughson at Livingston, 7:30 p.m. Burns: Hughson Cortez: Hughson
Modesto Chr. at Riverbank, 7:30 p.m. Burns: Modesto Chr. Cortez: Modesto Chr.

SOUTHERN LEAGUE
Delhi at Gustine, 7:15 p.m. Burns: Gustine Cortez: Gustine
Denair at Le Grand, 7:15 p.m. Burns: Denair Cortez: Denair
Mariposa at Orestimba, 7:15: p.m. Burns: Orestimba Cortez: Orestimba
Waterford at Ripon Chr., 7:15 p.m. Burns: Ripon Chr. Cortez: Ripon Chr.

CENTRAL CALIFORNIA ATHLETIC ALLIANCE
Delta Charter at Turlock Chr. (Hilmar H.S.), 7 p.m. Burns: Turlock Chr. Cortez: Turlock Chr.
Sierra Ridge/ROP at Stone Ridge Chr., 7 p.m. Burns: Stone Ridge Cortez: Stone Ridge

NON-LEAGUE
McClymonds at Downey,  7 p.m. Burns: Downey Cortez: Downey
Turlock at Central (Fresno), 7 p.m. Burns: Central Cortez: Central
Modesto at Franklin, 7 p.m. Burns: Modesto Cortez: Modesto
Woodland Chr. at Big Valley Chr., 7 p.m. Burns: Big Valley Chr. Cortez: Big Valley Chr.
Summerville at Pitman,  7 p.m. Burns: Pitman Cortez: Pitman
Sonora at West, 7 p.m. Burns: Sonora Cortez: West
Arroyo at Amador, 7 p.m. Burns: Amador Cortez: Amador
Weston Ranch at Gregori, 7:30 p.m. Burns: Gregori Cortez: Gregori
Bradshaw Chr. at Calaveras, 7:30 p.m. Burns: Calaveras Cortez: Bradshaw Chr.

PREVIOUS WEEKS
Week 0: Burns, 29-6. Cortez, 26-9.
Week 1: Burns, 22-10. Cortez, 21-11.
Week 2: Burns, 23-7. Cortez, 25-5.
Week 3: Burns, 20-10. Cortez 23-7.

SEASON
Burns, 94-33. Cortez, 95-32.

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