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The Ultimate Showdown
Central Valley High School varsity lineman Sean McLeod stood by himself on the sideline. Overcome with emotion, he couldn't bare to watch the scene unfold before him at Ceres High.

The Bulldogs made history by defeating the Hawks 20-7 in the first-ever meeting between the two teams last season. Ceres High players, coaches and fans celebrated in grand fashion.

"I went home, closed my bedroom door and didn't want to talk to anybody," McLeod said. "My emotions were showing heavily. I was sad and depressed. It was probably one of the worse feelings I've ever had in my life. We're going to try and make sure it doesn't happen again. But nothing's guaranteed."

The much-anticipated rematch will take place at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Bulldog Stadium.

Unfortunately for both teams, there's no playoff berth or league championship on the line.

Ceres High never figured into the postseason picture.

Central Valley saw its hopes dashed following a 40-39 overtime loss to Weston Ranch on Oct. 26.

Instead, pride will be at stake when the Hawks and Bulldogs meet.

"It's going to be a great atmosphere for the kids," Hawks coach Tim Garcia said. "We want to make sure they remember their final game. Hopefully, it's positive and productive."

"It's going to be fun playing against my friends," said Bulldogs quarterback Zack Atchison, who along with McLeod led the Ceres High freshman football team to the Modesto Metro Conference championship in 2005. "It makes it an even bigger rivalry. You just want to beat them even more. You want bragging rights."

The Bulldogs (0-6 VOL) will be led by Atchison (quarterback/linebacker), Matt Smith (running back/linebacker), Martino Bertolotti (receiver/defensive back), Hadon Lopez (linebacker/fullback), Marcus Hilgen (running back/defensive back) and Justin Hidahl (lineman).

"I'm pretty confident," Zack said. "Our defense has been stepping up. Our offense started to click last game."

Atchison threw for 697 yards and eight touchdowns through Ceres High's first nine regular-season games. He also has two rushing scores.

Smith rushed for a team-high 393 yards and scored one touchdown on 112 carries. He tallied 50 tackles, three sacks and one fumble recovery on defense.

Bertolotti caught 17 passes for 312 yards with two scores. He registered 30 tackles and intercepted two passes.

Hidahl accumulated 38 tackles, three sacks and two fumble recoveries.

Lopez put off surgery on his fractured right pinkie to play against the Hawks. The freshman leads the Bulldogs in tackles (64). He missed four league games due to the injury.

"It feels good knowing we have all of our players back and healthy," Atchison said. "Hadon's one of the top linebackers in the league. He makes our team better."

Central Valley (1-6 VOL) will be led by McLeod, Trevor Mew (quarterback), Gerald Garcia (receiver/defensive back), Joaquin Casas (running back/linebacker), Vince Lopez (running back/defensive back) and Rick Rogers (receiver/defensive back).

"Our expectations are pretty high," McLeod said. "This year, we have senior leadership."

The Crosstown Showdown should be entertaining. The game marks the end of a tough VOL season for both teams.

"We're really pumped up and motivated for this game," McLeod said. "Everyone's focused."

Added Atchison: "It would mean a lot if we won. It would pretty much save our season."