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Ripon coach impressed with Lathrop despite winless start

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Ripon coach  impressed with Lathrop despite winless start

Ripon High head coach Chris Johnsonbelieves Lathrop High’s Steven Wichman has the Spartans headed in the right direction.

HIME ROMERO/Bulletin file photo


POSTED September 20, 2013 1:13 a.m.

LATHROP – Often times, game films are like paintings.

Two people can spend hours studying the same canvas, examining its intricacies, searching for the deeper meaning in every brush stroke, only to walk away with different takes.

Steven Wichman and Chris Johnson have reviewed Lathrop High’s game film in preparation for today’s regional showdown, and – go figure – each has a different interpretation of the Spartans’ 0-2 start.

Wichman is Lathrop’s first-year coach, which makes him the most sensitive to the team’s mistakes and stumbles.

His program has been competitive in each of its losses. Yet, the Spartans have been their own worst enemy, squandering opportunities on defense while leaving points on the field.

Lathrop had three turnovers on nine offensive possessions in last week’s 21-12 loss at Capital Christian, and quarterback Kenny Garrett has thrown four interceptions.

“You can call them normal growing pains, I guess,” Wichman said. “These last two weeks we’ve worked hard and prepared for our games. We felt like we had an opportunity to win against Liberty Ranch and Capital Christian, but there were a few things we did to ourselves – not what the other team did against us – that held us back.”

When Johnson reviewed the game film, he saw the good – not the bad – in Lathrop’s performances.

He saw a much more athletic and dangerous team than the one his Ripon football team rolled over last fall.

Johnson was impressed with the Spartans’ line play and running back Hawaii Leaf a’Teo, who has rushed for 177 yards and one touchdown on 31 carries.

Leaf a’Teo picked up most of those yards in last week’s 21-12 loss at Capital Christian. He had 119 yards on 18 carries, scoring Lathrop’s first points on a 14-yard scamper.

Though Ripon (3-0) will be the heavy favorite tonight, Johnson realizes Lathrop has made tremendous strides since the 37-3 drubbing 12 months ago. On film, he says, the Spartans appear more athletic and able to compete with the established programs in the area.

“That’s the message: This is not the same Lathrop squad we played last year,” Johnson said. “They’re the most athletic team we’ve played. They’re bigger with some athletes we haven’t seen yet.

“They play hard, hustle and seem to be in the right spot. We expect a good game this week.”

Johnson was complimentary of Wichman and his coaching staff.

Of Ripon’s non-conference opponents – a list that includes Bret Harte (52-0), Linden (42-0) and Ripon Christian (56-26) – he believes Lathrop will be the toughest to put away.

That said, Johnson doesn’t put much stock in Lathrop’s winless record. A play here or there, he says, and Lathrop is 1-1 or 2-0.

“I think they’re physically talented enough to be there,” Johnson said. “Obviously, they’ve had some bad luck. But absolutely, they have all the tools they needed to win both of those games … against some very good football teams, too.”

The Spartans had an opportunity to take the lead against Capital Christian late in the first half, but the offense sputtered to a stop on the 1-yard line.

Lathrop ran four plays, but watched as its fourth-down pass was dropped in the end zone.

 “We’re not capitalizing on opportunities,” Wichman said. “We had the ball on the 1-yard line and couldn’t punch it in. On fourth down, instead of going for the field goal, we wanted to punch it in and gain some momentum but had a pass in the end zone that we drop.”

Wichman doesn’t see any of the same “growing pains” on Ripon’s film. The Indians have won 14 of their last 15 games, success attributed to their efficiency and attention to detail.

“They’re well-coached, well-disciplined. As far as making mistakes and turning the ball over, I haven’t noticed any of that. They haven’t done it,” Wichman said. “If anything, they’ve caused other teams to turn the ball over. They’re efficient on both sides of the ball. It’s going to be a tough battle.”

Wichman hopes the mistakes will cure themselves in practice and in film study.

Unlike him and Johnson, Wichman says his staff and players share the same interpretation.

“We’re a developing program. We’re trying to get on the right track. We have the athletes to do that,” Wichman said. “It’s just about directing our attention to what we need to do to walk off the field successful. It’s nothing that cannot be corrected.”

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