Friday Night Lights
Hughson dominates Modesto Christian as it makes push for playoffs and higher seeding

Barring a shocking loss by Escalon in the final two weeks of the regular season, Hughson’s goal of claiming its first Trans-Valley League football title in 25 years seems unreachable. But that doesn’t mean the Huskies can’t achieve their other big objective – namely, defending the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI championship they earned a year ago on their way to winning a State Division 5-AA title.

Hughson sits at 6-2 overall and 2-1 in league play after Friday’s easy 28-14 TVL win over Modesto Christian, a game in which the Huskies led 28-0 at halftime and controlled throughout. Hughson has two TVL games left, both on the road – this week at Hilmar and Oct. 27 at Ripon.

It’s unlikely the Huskies will catch first-place Escalon (7-1, 3-0), which manhandled Hilmar 49-21 on Friday night at Modesto Junior College. Hughson, which lost 21-14 to Escalon earlier, needed Hilmar (5-3, 2-1) to beat the Cougars and create the possibility of a three-way tie for first (assuming Hughson could defeat Hilmar).

Instead, Escalon will be heavy favorites at home this week against Ripon (3-5, 1-2) and next week at Livingston (2-6, 1-2) – meaning Hughson’s showdown this Friday with Hilmar more than likely will determine who finishes in second place in the TVL.

Still, Hughson has plenty of incentive to finish strong. The Huskies currently are seeded fourth in the Section Division VI rankings behind Sutter (7-2), Sonora (6-1) and Bradshaw Christian (6-2). Two more Hughson victories – coupled with any losses by those three schools – should earn the Huskies a higher seeding and the possibility of more home games when the playoffs begin in three weeks.

Hughson Coach Shaun King is frustrated by the current playoff rankings, noting the Huskies dropped from third to fourth this week despite an easy win and that Sutter stayed at No. 1 despite losing 19-14 to Twelve Bridges.

“I don’t understand how the rankings are determined,” he said. “We were up 28-0 at halftime on Senior Night and I wanted to get everyone in. So, I took my starters out most of the second half. These rankings, they want you to blow out everybody. I don’t think that’s right. I don’t coach that way. Do they want us to play our starters the whole game and have it get out of control?”

It’s not like Hughson hasn’t been dominant. It has scored more points this season (283) and given up fewer (103) than any other TVL team, including Escalon. The average margin of victory in their six wins has been nearly 29 points. The Huskies also have posted two shutouts. Their only two losses were by seven points to Escalon and six to Downey.

“That’s 13 points to two very good teams,” King said. “That means we’re a pretty good football team. We’ll make sure in November everyone will notice, wherever we go.”

Despite being the defending Section champion, Hughson appears to be getting less respect than other schools.

“That’s fuel for me,” King said. “The long-term goal is the Section, NorCal and State titles, and that’s what we’re focused on.”

The first thing to do is take care of business this week against Hilmar. King, now is his sixth year as Hughson’s coach, has never defeated Hilmar. The Huskies’ last victory against the Yellowjackets was in 2015.

“Their coaching staff is quick to make adjustments; they’ve been coaching together a long time. It’s just a great program from top to bottom,” King said.

Hilmar features quarterback Caden Bailey, who was the MVP of the league last year.

“He’s just a very good football player,” King said.

To defeat Hilmar, Hughson will lean on the same formula that has proven successful for most of the season – a balanced offensive attack led by junior quarterback Robert McDaniel and a stifling defense built around middle linebacker David Burns and an aggressive mix of linemen.

McDaniel completed 16 of 26 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns – one to David Delgado and one to Valente Soria. Running back Alex Villarreal chipped in with 86 yards on the ground and a TD while wide receiver Malakai Sumter scored from 11 yards out on his only carry.

Defensively, Burns led the way with seven tackles and an interception. Ivan Flores had 1½ sacks, Carlos Guizar added one and Luke Bridewell, William Walton and Blaine Smith contributed a half-sack each. Ryan Borrelli, Max Mankins, Larkin Meyer and Delgado all recorded tackles for a loss.

King said the Huskies are the healthiest they’ve ever been this deep into the season. He expects that to be a plus as they try to earn more playoff seeding respect in the final two weeks of the regular season.