Oakdale sophomore running back Zeke Saffar picks up blocking during a 56-24 victory over Sierra on Oct. 5, 2018. (Wayne Thallander)

Best four large-school teams in the region: Central Catholic, Merced and ...

James Burns

EDITOR'S NOTE: The large-school rankings are comprised of teams from the Central California Athletic League, Central California Conference, Valley Oak League and Western Athletic Conference. Last week's ranking and current records in parenthesis:

1. (1) Central Catholic (7-1, 4-0) — The Raiders jumped all over Weston Ranch, scoring a school record 53 points in the opening eight minutes, according to coach Roger Canepa. Dawaiian McNeely delivered the first shot — a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Next: Bye.

2. (2) Merced (7-0, 3-0) — So balanced and explosive, the Bears gained the inside track to the CCC title with Friday’s show of force against Buhach Colony. Merced is staring down a perfect regular season and top seed in the Division III playoffs. Next: at Patterson.

3. (3) Pitman (7-0, 2-0) — Pitman’s first six opponents had a combined record of 6-31, raising suspicions about the Pride’s lofty ranking. They silenced that argument by cooling off one of the region’s hottest teams in Gregori. Next: at Modesto.

4. (4) Turlock (4-3, 2-0) — The Bulldogs dominated the trenches. Lucas Curtis accounted for four touchdowns and the defense stifled Modesto’s vaunted ground game in a runaway victory between ancient rivals. Quarterback Jonah Kosakiewicz was benched at the start of the game for disciplinary reasons, giving way to Brock Pasley. "We hold our athletes to a high standard," coach James Peterson said, "and he failed to meet one of our standards this week." Next: vs. Enochs.

5. (6) Downey (4-3, 1-1) — Starting quarterback in street clothes. Reports of the team’s thin postseason chances under the new playoff format. And a two-game losing streak. Downey rose above all of the noise in a 47-14 victory over Enochs on Thursday evening. Next: at Gregori.

6. (7) Manteca (4-3, 2-1) — The Buffaloes pulled away from Kimball to win their second straight game. Manteca closes the regular season with Manteca Unified rivals Weston Ranch, Sierra and East Union. Next: vs. Weston Ranch.

7. (9) Oakdale (6-2, 3-1) — The Mustangs’ prolific Wing-T has news stars in sophomore Zeke Saffar and senior Max Moore, who combined for 350 yards and five touchdowns in a win over Sierra. Oakdale hosts Kimball and then will have two weeks to prepare for its regular-season finale with Central Catholic. Next: vs. Kimball.

8. (5) Buhach Colony (5-2, 3-1) — The game of the year in the CCC never materialized. The Thunder cut Merced’s lead to 14-7 but gave up a touchdown in the final minute of the first half, forfeiting momentum back to the potent Bears. Next: vs. Central Valley.

9. (8) Gregori (4-3, 1-1) — The Jaguars had their four-game winning streak snapped by the Pride, but they remain in the top-10 because they are better than sputtering Modesto, which has lost two straight including a head-to-head with Gregori, and any team in the Western Athletic Conference. Next: vs. Downey.

10. (nr) Pacheco (6-1, 4-0) — Speaking of the WAC. The Panthers have won four straight to set up an unofficial league championship game next week against also-unbeaten Mountain House. Even with a victory it would be hard to justify a climb higher than this in the poll because of the WAC’s weak strength of schedule. Next: vs. Mountain House.

Dropped out: Modesto (4-3, 0-2).

On the bubble: Patterson (5-3, 3-1).

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