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For second consecutive season, Hughson among state's elite
Huskies finish at No. 8 in Cal-Hi Sports' final small-school football rankings
Hughson football
The Hughson Huskies celebrate back-to-back CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Championships after a come-from-behind win over Bradshaw Christian in November (Journal file photo).

Cal-Hi Sports has released its final small-school football rankings for the 2023 season and Hughson High makes an appearance for the second consecutive season.

The Huskies (10-4) finish ranked eighth in the state, two spots lower than they finished in 2022 when they won the CIF Division 5-AA title.

Hughson repeated as Sac-Joaquin Section Division 6 champions with a come-from-behind 40-39 victory over Bradshaw Christian (Sacramento) on Nov. 25 at Hughes Stadium.

However, the Huskies’ season came to an end the following week in the CIF Division 4-A Northern California regional bowl game with a 31-21 loss to eventual state champion Palma (Salinas).

Trans-Valley League rival Escalon (12-2), which won a fourth consecutive section banner (excluding the COVID season), finished as the state’s No. 1 team for a second straight season, followed by Twelve Bridges of Lincoln (12-4), Ontario Christian (9-3), Sacred Heart Prep of Atherton (6-5), Menlo School of Atherton (10-2), Woodland Christian (15-0), Brentwood of Los Angeles (9-3), and Hughson.

Ripon Christian (12-2) came in at No. 9, and St. Pius-St. Matthias of Downey (6-6) rounded out the top 10.

St. Vincent de Paul of Petaluma (13-2) was No. 11, followed by St. Anthony of Long Beach (9-3), Rio Hondo Prep of Arcadia (13-2), Sutter (9-3) and Bradshaw Christian (10-3) at No. 15.

Among the honorable mentions were Hilmar (8-4), Orestimba (9-4) and Sonora (9-2), who, along with Hughson, Escalon and RC, will play in the revamped TVL next season,

“With all those teams mentioned, how many are going to be in the TVL next year?” said King. “There should be no question as to which league is the best small-school league in the state.”

Despite the fact they’ll lose six starters to graduation on the offensive side of the ball and five on the defensive side, the Huskies figure to once again be a contender for league and section titles in 2024.

Hughson’s high-powered offense will return quarterback Robert McDaniel, receivers Malakai Sumter and Bryce McDaniel, and tight end Max Mankins. They should also get a contribution from varsity newcomer Eli Wilbanks, a 6-foot, 205-pound member of this season's JV squad.

Robert McDaniel, who, along with Sumter and Mankins, will be a senior next year, is drawing interest from NCAA scouts.

“I’ll tell you what, the kids are already wanting to get back into the weight room,” said King. “I wasn’t going to open it up until Jan. 9 when they got back from break, but I decided to open it now. They’re ready to get that (Palma) taste out of their mouths.”