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It’s got check time for Knights following defeat

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POSTED October 23, 2014 12:53 a.m.

RIPON – The air of confidence has been sucked out of the Ripon Christian locker room.

The Knights’ Southern League hopes may have vanished with it, too.

A shocking loss to Gustine – a program just two years removed from four consecutive 1-9 campaigns – will do that.

Ripon Christian (5-2) rolled into the season with a veteran-laden offense, a new defensive-minded coach and hopes of a perfect run through the much-improved Southern League, but that plan was dashed by an early loss at Le Grand, a chief rival in recent years.

Then came last Friday’s gut punch.

The resurgent Redskins (3-1, 6-1) struck with a big-play offense, ripping off scoring plays of 74 and 78 yards in a 23-7 victory. The loss knocked Ripon Christian into the middle of the pack at 2-2, leaving the reigning Division VI finalists vulnerable for the first time in years.

Denair (0-4, 2-5) week never felt so important.

“This is a testing point for our team after not playing good,” left guard and defensive end Will Kamps said. “This game, we’re treating it like it’s the biggest game of the season. This is a major testing point, especially for our offense. We haven’t been able to get things going.”

Sounds strange to hear, but the Knights of today aren’t the Knights of yesteryear. That group was led by record-setting running back Andrew Brown, who set the Sac-Joaquin Section’s career mark for touchdowns.

His void has been filled by a pair of running backs, junior Brian Sytsma and senior Kevin Kramer. Both players have been hobbled in recent weeks with injuries, slowing the ground game and putting added pressure on strong-armed quarterback Billy Marr (75-of-144 passing, 1,049 yards, 8 touchdowns, 2 interceptions).

The Knights’ rushing attack has been in steady decline since a 21-20 win over Orestimba on Sept. 26. That night, Ripon Christian rushed for 249 yards on 41 carries, averaging 6.1 yards per touch.

Since then, the yards per carry average has dropped to 4.4 in the 15-14 loss at Le Grand, 3.8 in a 28-27 win over Waterford and a season-low 2.3 last week.

The Knights had just 70 yards on 30 carries against Gustine.

“We were definitely spoiled with Andrew Brown,” Kamps said. “Even if we came out flat, he was able to put the ball in the end zone and put points on the board.

“We have to play with more energy and click on all cylinders. It’s been difficult, but we embrace that challenge.”

When healthy, Sytsma and Kramer are a potent 1-2 punch out of the backfield.

At 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds, Sytsma’s size won’t elicit much fear, but don’t tell the junior that. Sytsma attacks defenses as though he were made of brick and stone. He leads the team with 662 yards and seven touchdowns.

Kramer (55 carries, 406 yards) is averaging a team-high 7.4 yards per carry.

“I think they’re most dangerous in the Southern League,” Kamps said. “Brian’s fearless. Even though he’s a tad undersized, he runs like he’s 240 pounds. It’s fun to block for both of them.”

While the loss to Gustine may have knocked Ripon Christian out of the running for a league title – Le Grand and Mariposa top the standings at 4-0 – Kamps believes it will serve the Knights well in their pursuit of a playoff berth and section title.

For starters, Ripon Christian realizes it can’t overlook any of its opponents, especially on the road. The Knights are 2-2 away from Stouffer Field.

That will be a point of focus when the team boards the bus for Denair on Friday.

“Gustine, they’re greatly improved from years past, but they caught us,” said Kamps, who has 28.5 sacks over the last two seasons, including eight this fall. “We thought coming back from Waterford … we thought we were invincible.

“It was heartbreaking. We went into this season hoping to go undefeated in league. We should have come out with passion and rolled through both teams. The team needs to work together and play with energy and heart. We showed flashes, but not quite there yet.”

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