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Ripon’s next opponent lacks depth, not talent

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POSTED October 23, 2014 12:54 a.m.

RIPON – When Ryan Fugit looks at film of Modesto Christian, the Ripon star sees flashes of monsters past.

The high-flying Crusaders have the size of Sierra and Sutter, two programs pointed toward league titles and deep postseason runs, and the athleticism of a Patterson.

They’ve got clout, too.

Modesto Christian (2-0, 6-1) is ranked fourth in Cal-Hi Sports’ Division IV Northern California Bowl rankings, behind Central Catholic, McClymonds and Capital Christian, a team it likely should have beaten in their season openers.

The Crusaders are a fumble away from being 7-0. Capital Christian turned that late mistake into the go-ahead points in a 23-22 victory.

Ripon (2-0, 2-4), which began the season by losing four of its first five games, could care less if it is the decided underdog on Friday at Modesto Christian.

The fast-improving Indians welcome another chance to test its young talent. Ravaged by graduation, particularly at the skill positions, Ripon’s tough non-conference schedule showed its junior class no mercy.

But there were lessons learned and bonds forged, Fugit said.

“I’ve been talking to the guys in practice. We want to see if our hard work playing against good teams like Sierra will pay off,” he added. “I think it will be a good game, whether we win or not.”

Since hitting Trans Valley League play, Ripon has done nothing but win. The Indians have routed Hilmar and Riverbank by a combined score of 101-27, creating a logjam at the top of the standings with the Crusaders and Escalon.

“I feel like this team grew up faster than everyone expected. We took tough losses and then came back and played good against teams like Lathrop and Sonora,” Fugit said. “Even Sutter, we had a good first quarter and our defense stepped up.

“The young guys got a taste of what varsity football is and it has made us a better football team. Now we have to carry that into league and show that we can play at a higher level.”

Modesto Christian should be an adequate measuring stick for the Indians’ progress and potential.

The Crusaders have ripped off six straight wins since that opening night setback, and they’re coached by one of the Northern California’s best. Mike Parsons won a CIF small-school state championship with Modesto Christian in 2009 and then led Clovis West to a Division I Central Section title the following year.

He’s back in Salida now working the same magic with a roster no deeper than a soccer team.

The Crusaders will trot out just 19 players on Friday – a disadvantage that has forced Parsons to be creative. That ingenuity has produced a vaunted, multi-pronged ground game. The Crusaders’ Wing-T offense is averaging 340 rushing yards per game and has seven players with at least 120 yards.

Sophomore Chris Brown leads the way with 690 yards on 72 carries. His nine touchdowns are also tops on the team.

Seniors Zach Schott and Conner Dowd are hot on his heels with 510 and 411 yards, respectively, and 13 combined touchdowns.

The Wing-T offense relies on sleight of hand and deception, and of course, multiple ball carriers.

It also helps to have an offensive line that features 2013 MaxPreps all-state center Kory Mora, and tackles Caleb Blakely (6-3, 270 pounds) and Matt Hale (6-0, 315).

“Their whole team is pretty strong,” Fugit said. “I know they don’t have a lot of players, but individually, they’re pretty good at what they do.”

There are few better than Dowd, a ball-hunting middle linebacker. The 6-foot-1 senior is fourth in the section in tackles with 104 stops. He also has two sacks, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

How will Ripon counter all that size and speed?

With tempo.

The Indians will look to tire out the Crusaders’ two-way players.

“We’ve been working on a fast tempo, which we try to do in every game anyway,” Fugit said. “This week, though, we’re going to emphasize it. We don’t have 270-pound guys. We’re going to try to use our speed and hopefully that works out for us.”

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