Local teams have high hopes for 2013 prep football season

sjansen@mercedsunstar.comAugust 29, 2013 

After every bobbled snap or fumbled football at practice the Atwater High football players hit the ground.

They quickly count off 14 push-ups.

"Mainly any exchange between the quarterback and center or any time the ball hits the ground," Falcons head coach Bob Valladao said. "If we're running the option and we drop a pitch, everyone does push-ups. The whole team does it, not just the offense."

The 14 symbolizes the 14 games it takes to reach the Sac-Joaquin Section championship game.

No local large school has reached the title game since Merced in 2006.

In August, that doesn't matter.

"Every season starts off new," Valladao said. "You have high hopes. We expect to play well. We've got a good challenge ahead of us. We're excited because it's an opportunity to hit somebody other than ourselves."

The 2013 season kicks off tonight with some marquee matchups, including Atwater traveling to Elk Grove to face a Franklin team that started last season 12-0 before losing to eventual Division 1 state champions Granite Bay.

"Franklin has very good athletes," Valladao said. "They graduated a lot of players from last year's team, but they have players moving up.

"We feel we match up well with them up front. Their skills guys are athletic and fast. They're comparable to some of the good teams we've faced in league in the past."

Area fans won't have to travel far to see quality football with Merced playing host to Clovis West at Veterans Stadium and Buhach Colony entertaining San Ramon Valley at Atwater High.

Golden Valley starts Saturday at Downey of Modesto.

"The playoffs are one thing, but in terms of high school football, I think opening night is the most exciting part of the season unless you're in a game with a league championship on the line," said Rob Scheidt, who is starting his 18th season as Merced's head coach. "I expect the atmosphere to be great. I think we have a good team. Now we find out if that's true."

The Bears got a good look at the offense they'll be facing tonight during last week's scrimmage with Modesto Christian, which uses the same Shotgun Wing-T as Clovis West.

"We've never really prepped for a scrimmage, but this scrimmage helped us prepare for our first game," Scheidt said. "We've only gone against ourselves and Clovis West looks in practice so going live against somebody else who runs the same offense was a perfect scenario."

Buhach Colony has come closest to playing for a section title. The Thunder have reached the semifinals three straight years, losing each time to the eventual section champ.

Along the way the Thunder have compiled an impressive 34-5 record and won three straight Central California Conference championships, going a perfect 15-0 in conference.

This group of Thunder players want to keep that run going.

San Ramon Valley and running back Marcus de la Pena, who rushed for 167 yards and a touchdown in last year's 28-24 loss to Buhach Colony, will be a tough early test.

Other interesting matchups tonight include Los Banos traveling to Escalon. The teams faced off twice last year with Los Banos defeating the Cougars 34-32 in the first game of the season and then Escalon winning 42-35 in quadruple overtime in the Division 4 semifinals.

Le Grand begins its quest of a fourth straight section title in Orestimba and will have to contain Warriors running back Steven Machado, who rushed for 1,958 yards and 23 touchdowns last year.

Old rivals Livingston and Hilmar will go toe-to-toe in Hilmar.

Tonight's Games

(All games at 7:30 p.m.)

Clovis West at Merced

San Ramon Valley at Buhach Colony

Atwater at Franklin (Elk Grove)

Los Banos at Escalon

Pacheco at Selma

Livingston at Hilmar

Le Grand at Orestimba

Galt at Delhi

Saturday's Games

Golden Valley at Downey

Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at sjansen@mercedsunstar.com.

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