Editor's note: The Front Row's small-school rankings are comprised of teams from the Trans-Valley League, Mother Lode League, Southern League and Central California Athletic Alliance. Last week's ranking and current record appear in parenthesis:
Sonora is free-falling and in danger of tumbling out of the Front Row's small-school rankings.
The Wildcats have been hit hard by the injury bug, beginning with Division-I recruit Evan Bearden, the Mother Lode League's reigning defensive player of the year. Bearden's senior season has been slowed as he recovers from ankle surgery.
It has made for a perplexing start. Sonora was believed to be a Sac-Joaquin Section and CIF State Bowl contender, but that explosive triple-option offense has failed to find the end zone in two games. The latest shutout loss is to Ripon, which sat its starting quarterback for eight minutes and still pieced together a 34-0 victory.
The Wildcats fall four places to No. 7 and may find themselves out of the top-10 after this week. The schedule won't show them any mercy. Sonora hosts No. 2 Escalon Friday and then closes the nonconference portion of its schedule at top-ranked Hilmar and West of Tracy.
Here's a closer look at this week's small-school top-10:
1. (1) Hilmar (2-0): The Yellowjackets weren’t perfect and still walked out of Los Banos’ Loftin Stadium with a blowout victory. Isaac Sharp (8 carries, 94 yards) had another monster performance with four total touchdowns, including an 85-yard kick return. Next: vs. Gustine (1-0).
2. (2) Escalon (2-0): Luke Anderson and Colton Panero scored rushing touchdowns for the Cougars, who snapped a two-game losing streak to Calaveras with a 21-7 victory. Next: at Sonora (0-2).
3. (4) Orestimba (2-0): Jacob Bettencourt accounted for all four touchdowns in the Warriors’ hard-fought 27-24 victory over the Huskies. Bettencourt completed 15 of his 33 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for two scores. Next: vs. Golden Sierra (1-1).
4. (5) Ripon (2-0): With quarterback Ryan Daggett at the controls, the Indians’ offense has been special to start the 2018 season. However, it’s the defense — as fast and athletic as they’ve been in recent memory — that has turned heads. Ripon has yet to allow a point after blanking Weston Ranch and Sonora. Next: vs. Central Valley (1-1).
5. (6) Modesto Christian (2-0): Hayden Sauser and the Crusaders have impressed through the first two weeks, beating large-school opponents. Sauser has completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 380 yards and three touchdowns. Now Modesto Christian looks to avenge an ugly 42-7 loss to Calaveras. Next: at Calaveras (0-1).
6. (7) Ripon Christian (2-0): Behind a strong start from Michael Kamps (304 rushing yards, 11.3 average, 8 total TDs), the Knights have outscored their first two opponents 112-18, but should be tested by a road trip to Summerville. The Bears defeated Southern League foe Mariposa, 10-9. Next: at Summerville (1-0).
7. (3) Sonora (0-2): What is going on with the Wildcats? A team blessed with three of the top-50 returning players in the region has failed to score a point in two games, and the road ahead doesn’t look any kinder. The Wildcats still have to deal with the region’s top teams, Escalon and Hilmar, before launching into Mother Lode League play. Next: vs. Escalon (2-0).
8. (8) Denair (1-0): The Coyotes were idle last week. Next: vs. Millennium (0-2).
9. (9) Hughson (1-1): The Huskies gave No. 3 Orestimba a serious scare, but lost running back Carlos Arreola to an injury early in the contest. Hughson sticks at No. 9 despite the loss, because Arreola is a game-changer and may have led the Huskies to a road victory if he hasn’t come out of the game. Next: vs. Argonaut (2-0).
10. (10) Big Valley Christian (1-0): The Lions were idle last week. Next: vs. Le Grand (1-0).
On the bubble: Summerville (1-0), Amador (2-0), Argonaut (2-0), Gustine (1-0).
To contact James Burns, follow him on Twitter @jburns1980 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.