Ripon Christian’s first showdown with Hilmar was more competitive than expected.
That was back in 2015, when the Knights — still the little engine that could, just not against the true small-school powers of the region — came up short against the top seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI semifinal, 34-28.
No. 4 Ripon Christian (12-0) reunites with one of the Trans-Valley League’s titans on Friday, only this time they are tangling for the SJS Division VI title that second-seeded Hilmar (10-2) is defending at Turlock High’s Joe Debely Stadium.
And these aren’t your older brother’s Knights — more specifically, Michael Kamps’ older brother’s Knights. Will Kamps, an offensive guard who also lined up everywhere on the defensive front, is arguably one of the best players to come out of Ripon Christian. Hilmar was the last team he played against in his decorated high school career.
“I remember that game,” said Michael Kamps, Ripon Christian’s leading rusher and a key contributor on defense. “It was my freshman year and I was not old enough to join the varsity for the playoffs. I remember my brother did really well in his last game.
“It’s a cool coincidence that we both get to face Hilmar in the postseason of our senior years. Hilmar has consistently been a playoff football team and it’s a credit to them.”
Perhaps it’s time Ripon Christian gets credit of its own. The Knights are making their third final-round appearance in seven years but came up emptyhanded in previous attempts.
Indeed, much has changed for Ripon Christian since the last meeting with Hilmar. That was Trey Ozenbaugh’s second year as head coach, and he was an assistant back when the Knights were punching bags in the TVL.
They are no longer happy to be here and satisfied to put forth a respectable effort against a more accomplished opponent.
“The culture of expecting to win has developed since that time,” Ozenbaugh said. “It’s not, ‘let’s hope we go out and play well then hope the outcome is a win,’ it’s about expecting to win. Part of creating that culture is preparation in the offseason and in season, which is two areas we’ve significantly improved on since the last time we faced them.”
Hilmar is in its 14th section final with seven banners already in its possession — three garnered by head coach Frank Marques. The Yellowjackets stomped fellow TVL heavyweight Modesto Christian 42-13 for last year’s Division VI crown while Rio Vista blasted Ripon Christian 56-28 in the Division VII final.
“Frank does a great job,” Ozenbaugh said. “Their kids get after it on both sides of the ball and they are a very disciplined team. I anticipate a strong battle between two teams that are really confident, and both teams should be at this point.”
Here’s a closer look at the SJS Division VI championship:
MC FACTOR: Modesto Christian edged out Hilmar 24-21 en route to claiming a share of the TVL championship with Ripon, the team responsible for the Yellowjackets’ other defeat.
Ripon stunned then-undefeated MC 25-22 in Week 10. Neighboring Ripon Christian didn’t need last-minute heroics to topple the top-seeded Crusaders last week, rolling to a 25-13 upset and without a doubt the biggest win in program history.
“Going in we knew we were the underdogs,” two-way lineman Drew Van Vliet said. “We weren’t picked to win by anybody and we had to in and prove something. I think that did that. We showed we can play with those TVL teams and that we’re for real. I still think that people are going to choose Hilmar, but they’re not going to overlook us.”
Van Vliet and the Knights were able to bully the bullies in the semifinal round. At left tackle, he more than held his own against highly-recruited 6-foot-7, 245-pound defensive end/tight end Xavier Carlton. Kamps, an outside linebacker on defense, deflected three passes intended for Carlton and one of them went for a pick.
“We’re never going to shy away from the challenge,” Kamps said. “We want to win every game we play in, even if it means we’re moving up a division. It’s a chance to make our program better and more respected. I think we’ve already proved we can play in this bracket.”
ON THE ATTACK: Ripon Christian’s defensive unit is one of the stingiest around, giving up an average of 5.9 points per game.
The Knights are producing on offense, as well. Kamps leads the way with 1,585 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns to go with 361 yards and eight touchdowns receiving. Six-foot-2 receiver/safety Sean McGovern (27 receptions, 436 yards, seven TDs) is a big target in the passing game, and much of the offense’s improvement can be attributed to the development of 6-8 quarterback Cade Alger (1,244 yards, 67.7 completion percentage 19 TDs). Alger threw for three touchdowns in the second quarter against MC.
Ozenbaugh credits Randy Fasani, the former Del Oro and Stanford star who previously led Ripon Christian as head coach. He’s back as the offensive coordinator.
“One of the keys to our success is our defense, which has been good for a very long time,” Ozenbaugh said. “Eddie Erdelatz does a tremendous job preparing the defense, but now with Randy’s return to the program our offense is up to the same level where the defense has been for a long time.”
DEFENDING HILMAR: The Knights are surely to meet their toughest test Friday.
The Yellowjackets have a dynamic one-two punch in the backfield with the speedy Issac Sharp (1,323 yards, 17 TDs; 390 yards, five TDs receiving) and bruising 6-1, 210-pound Justin Rentfro (718 yards, 11 TDs).
“They have some athletes,” Van Vliet said. “Issac Sharp is fast, shifty and can break loose at any point, and (Rentfro) can run you over. They have two studs right there, and their line is physical. We have a tough task ahead of us, and it’s a good challenge to show what our defense is made of.”
Hilmar can also air it out two capable quarterbacks Treven Crowley (1,126 yards, nine TDs) and Ryan Teixeira (405 yards, five TDs).