Ripon running back Roland Davis runs away from the Hilmar defense during a victory earlier in the season. The win vaulted the Indians to No. 1 in the small-school ranking, where they've remained for two weeks. (Wayne Thallander)

Small monopoly: Trans-Valley, Southern leagues dominate poll. Where they fall.

James Burns

Editor’s note: The small-school rankings are comprised of teams from the Central California Athletic Alliance, Mother Lode League, Southern League and Trans-Valley League. Last week’s ranking and current record in parenthesis.

The Trans-Valley League continues to carry's small-school poll.

Defense has set the tone for top-ranked Ripon and No. 2 Modesto Christian, who remain on a collision course. The two teams meet in their regular-season finale on Oct. 26, but there’s no guarantee that either reaches the finish line with perfect records intact.

A Ripon Christian student holds up a sign prophesying the Knights' 23-17 victory over Orestimba on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. With the win, Ripon Christian climbed to No. 4 in the lastest small-school poll. (James Burns)

Little separates the top-four teams in the TVL on the field — or in the polls. For six weeks, Ripon, Modesto Christian, Hilmar and Escalon jockeyed for position in the top-four. Today, another has infiltrated their circle. With its dramatic 23-17 victory over Orestimba, fourth-ranked Ripon Christian has broken up the TVL’s stronghold, bumping snake-bitten Escalon down to No. 5, its lowest ranking of the season.

While the football in the TVL has been strong, the Southern League is fighting for attention. Waterford shares the No. 10 ranking with Hughson, another potential playof team out of the TVL, rejoining the poll after two weeks away. The TVL and SL occupy nine of the 11 spots in this week’s poll.

Here’s a closer look at the rankings:

1. (1) Ripon (7-0, 3-0): The Indians shut out their fourth opponent of the season with a 49-0 victory over Livingston. Ripon surges into its bye but faces a tough closing stretch, beginning with its always-testy rivalry game with Escalon. Next: Bye.

2. (2) Modesto Christian (7-0, 3-0): The Crusaders remained in lock-step with the Indians atop the TVL standings thanks to an incredible throw and catch and a defense that doesn’t bend. Hayden Sauser left his feet on a touchdown pass to Xavier Carlton, who completed the play from his back between three defenders. Next: vs. Livingston.

3. (3) Hilmar (5-1, 1-1): The Yellowjackets were idle last week. Next: vs. Hughson.

4. (5) Ripon Christian (7-0, 3-0): The Knights scored 15 points in the final 6 minutes and completed their come-from-behind victory over Orestimba with a 22-yard touchdown pass from third-string QB Jacob Van Groningen to Austin Ries with 26 seconds left. The win establishes Ripon Christian as the team to beat in the Southern League. Next: at Gustine.

5. (4) Escalon (4-2, 0-2): The Cougars have lost two straight games by a combined four points, and if not for their red-zone issues in the losses, Andrew Beam’s bunch might be sitting atop the rankings and the TVL standings. Next: at Riverbank.

6. (6) Orestimba (4-2, 2-1): The Warriors had their 23-game league winning streak snapped, but more concerning is Orestimba’s ability to hold onto leads late in the game. In both of its losses, Orestimba has squandered a lead of five or more points in the final minutes. Next: vs. Denair.

7. (7) Denair (5-1, 2-1): The Coyotes rebounded from their first loss of the season with an impressive second half at Gustine. Led by Hunter Musgrave (206 yards and three touchdowns), Denair scored 35 unanswered points to snap Gustine’s three-game winning streak. Next: at Orestimba.

8. (8) Sonora (2-4, 1-0): The Wildcats won their 25th consecutive Mother Lode League game with a running-clock victory at Bret Harte. The Bullfrogs jumped on the board with a trick play on the opening possession, but after that it was all Sonora. Among the highlights: A one-handed touchdown catch by Evan Bearden. Next: vs. Argonaut.

9. (9) Big Valley Christian (5-1, 2-0): The Knights took a big step toward claiming the CCAA championship with a 26-10 victory over Stone Ridge Christian, the defending champion. Javyn Drobnick had 240 yards and three touchdowns. Next: at Millennium, Saturday.

t-10. (10) Hughson (5-2, 2-1): Dray Beltran got the Huskies off to a fast start on homecoming night with an 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and quarterback Steven Morris showed no ill-effects of a shoulder injury. Next: at Hilmar.

t-10. (nr) Waterford (5-1, 2-1): The Wildcats return to the top-10 following a 49-7 victory over Le Grand. Waterford piled up 603 yards of total offense, including a career-high 342 passing yards and four total TDs by quarterback Michael Vivo (13 of 27). Next: vs. Mariposa.

Follow James Burns on Twitter @jburns1980, or email him at