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Ripon faces biggest test in semifinals

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Ripon High’s Kody Day (72) and Harrison Salvador (76) catch the leaping Mike Seawell in midair at the line of scrimmage. Seawell and Calaveras were stifled offensively by the Indians in last week’s...

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin/

POSTED November 27, 2013 11:51 p.m.

RIPON — Kody Day, a disruptive force on Ripon High’s defensive line at 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, does not back down from a challenge.

He admitted to have broken character this past summer when he and the Indians crashed into the behemoth linemen from Manteca at West High’s full-contact camp in Tracy. One week before their regular-season opener, they saw the Buffaloes again in a scrimmage.

“Over the summer I was hating coach for throwing us at a big team like that,” Day said with a smile.

Three months later …

“We owe Coach (Eric) Reis and those Buffaloes a big thanks because they made us a better football team,” Ripon head coach Chris Johnson said.

Both Day and Johnson agree that their preseason meetings with Manteca have the Indians prepared for the brutes that await them Friday night in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinals. Top-seeded Central Catholic (11-1) welcomes No. 4 Ripon to David Patton Field for a rematch of their 2012 quarterfinal won by the Raiders, who went on to capture the Northern California and state small-schools championships.

Tackle Spencer Stark (6-2, 325) leads Central’s mountainous line that includes Ripon resident Ivan Swalve (6-3, 235). Between them are guards Travis Gist (6-2, 250) and Joey Rossini (6-1, 245) with

Jonah Friedrich (6-2, 225) manning the middle.

“They’re the second biggest line we’ve played after Manteca,” Day said. “I wouldn’t say Manteca bullied us around by any means.”

Manteca is also in the semifinals in Division III. The biggest of the Buffs are Joe Eavenson (6-5, 312), Isaac McClain (6-3, 291) and Billy Sharmoug (6-2, 301).

“They made us get out there against bigger guys and the type of athletes and speed that they have,” Johnson said. “I think it gave our kids some confidence going into our schedule. When we went up against not-Manteca type teams all of the sudden it was like, ‘Wow! We’re all right.’”

Ripon is doing all right in the playoffs so far, walloping Mother Lode League champion Calaveras 58-21 last week while limiting standout Mike Seawell to just 26 rushing yards last week. Section-leading rusher Andrew Brown from rival Ripon Christian remains the only back to have touched the triple-digit mark against Ripon’s stout defense.

On Friday it will be strength against strength, as Central Catholic does its best work on the ground with those big bodies paving the way.

“I’m pretty confident,” Day said. “Robert (Taylor) and Harrison (Salvador) are about my size, and it’s hard to try and push them around. They’re going to fight no matter what the score is and that’s what I love about those two. I have faith in our ‘D’ line to its job.”

The good news for Ripon is that Central’s two-headed monster of Ray Lomas (2,084 yards, 34 TDs in 2012) and Rey Vega (1,524-28) has graduated.

The bad news: the Raiders have a Ringer.

Matt Ringer, powerfully built at 5-10, 210, is a workhorse who has piled up 1,815 yards and 28 touchdowns.

“They don’t do anything differently,” said Ripon linebacker Michael Morris. “It’s the same offense; they come right at you with the I-formation. They don’t have the Ray-Rey thing going on anymore where they can just (rotate) one Division-I athlete for another, but Ringer is a good back and a tough kid.”

More bad news: Central Catholic has other weapons.

“Just go down their roster, man,” Johnson said.

Central’s lineage of great running backs continues with freshman Montell Bland already making an impact. His senior brother Reggie Bland stars on both sides of scrimmage at fullback and middle linebacker. They are the younger brother of Louis Bland, formerly the section’s all-time touchdown leader.

Johnson is especially impressed with unheralded tight end/safety Jared Rice, a mismatch for Ripon’s shorter defenders at 6-5. Rice also intercepted two passes in last week’s 57-27 quarterfinal victory over Colfax, giving him six on the season.

“He’s a player,” Johnson said of Rice. “He really jumped out at me on film.”

While Central doesn’t pass much, Johnson believes the Raiders are plenty capable of doing so no matter who is at quarterback. Donovin Townsend was replaced behind center after going out with an injury before the playoffs, though he returned to play defense last week.

Promising sophomore Hunter Petlansky, already an athletic specimen at 6-2, 230, called the signals for Raiders in their first two postseason contests. He showed glimpses in the Colfax game, completing 5 of 8 for 121 yards and a touchdown. He also scored a rushing TD.

“He seems to be doing fine — he’s 2-0,” Morris said of Petlansky, who starred on the Ripon Knights’ championship youth football teams. “Even if he’s not doing fine he has the supporting cast to help him out.”

Morris said the 2012 defeat to Central Catholic still burns. No other team pushed the Raiders the way Ripon did in the postseason, as they rolled to running-clock victories in the section, NorCal and state title games.

“I wouldn’t say it’s something to hang our hat on,” Morris said. “It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth because we were leading at halftime of that game and we didn’t score another point in the second half. Just stupid mistakes and not executing.

“I’m a little hungry — we’re all a little hungry. I was on the defense last year and it was a heartbreaker to lose that game.”

That loss also gives Ripon added confidence heading into the rematch. The Indians trailed 17-0 in the first quarter and scored 21 unanswered points in the second for a halftime lead. Central ultimately took advantage of six Ripon turnovers.

“We have a lot of guys back who played in that game and we had some success,” Johnson said. “Obviously they wore us down in the end and their athleticism just took over. We’re a pretty good football team, too, and we feel that we’re better this year at this point. We execute than we did last year.

“Everything is going to have to fall right for us,” Johnson added, “but if we’re right there with them in the fourth quarter we feel that we have a shot at it.”

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