Union Democrat staff

We can dream, can't we?

Sure, it's way too early, way too unlikely and way too crazily fantastic to even contemplate before Halloween. But still...

The Sonora High School Wildcats are an undefeated 5-0 going into tonight's road showdown with the perennially powerful Manteca Buffaloes. And last year's Cinderellas, the Summerville High Bears, are 4-1 and seasoned winners hosting their Mother Lode League opener tonight against Bret Harte.

Both football teams are improving week to week and coming off of emphatic wins.

"Bears dominate, smash Grizzlies," read the headline announcing Summerville's 34-6 home win over Mariposa.

"Wildcats run wild in win over Central Valley," added the Sonora head, heralding a 35-12 Valley Oak League victory over the Hawks.

Dunlavy and Thorsted fields are the places to be on Friday nights. Four thousand fans - that's about eight times Summerville's enrollment - shoehorned themselves into the stands for the Bears' rousing, 45-28 homecoming win over Denair. Gates also have been great at Dunlavy, where a capacity crowd is expected for Oct. 23's homecoming tilt against Sierra.

Combined, the two Tuolumne County grid squads are already a gaudy 9-1. So what if this torrid pace continues?

Well, that's where our delightful delusions take over: Under new section rules, Sonora and Summerville could conceivably meet for the Sac-Joaquin Division IV championship.

Sure, the odds of this happening are longer than the line for one of Disneyland's E-ticket rides. Still, it's a great time to be a high school football fan in Tuolumne County. Or to become one.

Consider this: It costs $6 or less to get into Dunlavy or Thorsted and watch these hard-working kids play their hearts out for the love of the game and the chance to make a little history.

"You'll get your money's worth," guaranteed Bryan Craig, Sonora's first-year coach. "Our guys give their all."

Or you could burn a bunch of gas driving down to the Oakland Coliseum, pay $60 or so to see the Raiders and guzzle $10 beers to wash away the taste of millionaire athletes going through the motions.

Their coach doesn't want to answer the phone, because it might be Al Davis firing him or the Napa cops arresting him for choking an assistant. Ours are happy to talk.

Craig, who began coaching Pop Warner football back in the 1980s and worked his way through the ranks, this year replaced Sonora coaching legend Robert Cendro. Nobody's saying "Robert who?" yet, but Coach Craig is making an impression.

"My secret?" he laughed. "I wish I knew."

But a faster defense, a new off-season weight-training program, superb conditioning and a can-do attitude are all keys to the Wildcats' success. The answer is yes, Craig has a lot to do with all of that.

At Summerville, Coach Ben Watson has the former MLL doormats thinking title. A multi-dimensional attack, an all-league quarterback and a swarming defense are all part of the Bear formula.

The downside? "We can't sneak up on anyone anymore," said the four-year coach, who really doesn't mind the team's newfound respect.

Watson, who has been coaching as long as Craig, has a core of veteran players who expect to win and have joined him in spreading that expectation to the rest of the team.

And that Wildcat-Bear section championship game may take second place to another dream.

"What if we could bring this year's Sonora and Summerville squads together as one team?" fantasized Wildcat Athletic Director Rick Francis. "They'd never lose."

Kind of like the fans that pack their stands every Friday.