Medium/Small School Teams of Week

In this salute to teams we have categorized as medium or small schools based on competitive equity, enrollment and other factors, it’s a new feature this season pointing the spotlight on two of them each week who just had impressive outings on the football field. Congrats to Vanden of Fairfield (medium) & Liberty of Madera Ranchos (small).

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=Medium Schools – VANDEN (FAIRFIELD)

For this week’s Medium Schools choice, we have to admit that it was chosen before last Friday games. The trick, however, is that Vanden of Fairfield needed to win in its matchup with Foothill of Pleasanton since it was a game we decided to attend.

Orion Null of Vanden was a sack leader in the Sac-Joaquin Section last season and continues to look like one of the top defenders for the Vikings this season. Photo: Mark Tennis.

Foothill didn’t figure to be a pushover with two easy wins to start its season and coming off of an appearance in the CIF North Coast Section D2 championship game. The Falcons put up a fight, but the Vikings’ superior speed at the skill positions and having Tre Dimes, one of the top QBs in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section, proved to be too much. Vanden won, 23-14, and is looking similar to last year’s team that won the SJS D4 title and then took the CIF D3-AA crown with a 14-13 victory over Aquinas of San Bernardino.

The Vikings (4-0) only allowed 149 total yards and were leading 23-0 early in the fourth quarter when things got weird. A holding penalty in the end zone gave Foothill its first two points of the game and then after getting the ensuing kick the Falcons scored a touchdown on a 24-yard pass from Erik Olsen to D1 sophomore prospect Chris Lawson. In the game’s final minute, with the score 23-8, Vanden was punting out of the end zone when there was a fumble recovered by the Falcons for a touchdown. All of a sudden, if Foothill could convert a two-point conversion and then get an onside kick, the outcome could be in doubt. The Vikings’ defense, however, didn’t give up that two-pointer and there was no onside kick recovery either.

Vanden, which built its lead in the first half on a 77-yard TD pass from Dimes to Jaxon Clark and then a 24-yard run by Elijah Fisherman, pushed it out even further in the third quarter on a 6-yard run by Dimes.

It turns out that Vanden head coach Sean Murphy was playing for the Vikings the last time we saw a game at Vanden — in 1997 when we headed there to get a look at record-breaking running back John Bordenkircher of Dixon. He and the team play Rancho Cotate of Rohnert Park this week and will then turn attention to the Monticello Empire League, which is usually the domain of Vacaville and a team that beat the Vikings last year before the state title run. After that, it’s then hard to tell which division of the SJS playoffs that Vanden would be in, but it would be higher than D4 especially if the team does win a league title.

“We talk about the journey of every team and it all starts with the non-league games,” Murphy said. “We’re still trying to find our identity. Last year, it just got to the point where they just refused to lose.”

Liberty of Madera Ranchos has won three CIF Central Section titles under head coach Mike Nolte. Photo:

Similar teams to Vanden in the SJS like Manteca and Escalon plus those from other NorCal sections like Marin Catholic, Campolindo, McClymonds and whichever team from the CIF Central Coast Section wins in its D1 bracket like last year will be very difficult to pick through to determine seedings for the NorCal regional playoffs from D2-A down to D4-AA. The only sure thing so far is that McClymonds will be higher than D3-A due to the very easy manner in which the Warriors rolled through the teams they played, including the state final.

Small Schools

This hopefully will not be a jinx to the Hawks since they are playing perennial CIF Central Section small school power Caruthers (3-1) on Friday, but it’s easy to like what they’ve done so far.

It isn’t last Friday’s 43-0 romp past Yosemite of Oakhurst that has impressed, but it’s more two earlier wins — 34-14 over Mendota (which has a win over Strathmore) and 28-14 over Dos Palos (team that 10-0 in regular season in 2021). Head coach Mike Nolte’s club improved to 4-0.

The Hawks have a good dose of players who are strong at multiple roles. Vince Oberti has rushed for 477 yards with two TD receptions on offense while on defense he has 24 tackles, one sack and a caused fumble. Max Nulick also has two TD catches on offense while on defense he has 17 tackles with three sacks and a caused fumble. Junior Caleb Sisco has 21 carries for 215 yards and four TDs with three catches for 50 yards and one TD on offense while on defense he has 17 tackles, three for loss and an interception. Sisco also has connected for a 54-yard punt.

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