They say that defense wins championships.
That’s especially true if your best defense is an offense that can slowly and meticulously grind away the clock on drives that take up two-thirds of a quarter before the punching the ball into the end zone.
And that’s exactly the kind of defense that the Ripon Indians had on Friday night at Downey High School’s Chuck Hughes Stadium in a thorough 31-14 dismantling of feared Northern Section power Sutter in the CIF State Northern California Division IV-AA Bowl Game.
It also helps when the players who anchor that effort, the offensive line, are walking onto the field every game with the world telling them that they aren’t big enough, quick enough, or strong enough to get the job done.
Led by seniors Jeremiah Willey and Caleb Delgado, the offensive line — which includes sophomores Colin Speed, Caleb Johnston, and Cesar Castellanos — helped Ripon amass 446 offensive yards to Sutter’s 127 and they blocked for 76 offensive plays to Sutter’s 26.
“I think time of possession was the story of this game,” Sutter coach Ryan Reynolds said. “They did a fantastic job of playing keep-away. … When you only run about five plays in a half it’s hard to put up points there.”
With two drives in excess of eight minutes to their credit and the remarkable feat of allowing Sutter only ran eight offensive plays in the entire second half and none in the fourth quarter, the Indians’ offensive line proved that doubting them only makes them stronger.
“All year, every single newspaper said we were undersized, we have two sophomores on our O-line, and I think as an O-line we were confident the entire year we could take on anyone no matter how big they are or how quick they are,” said 5-foot-6 senior center Willey. “And tonight, I think it really set the tone when we took it out and ran it straight down their throat.”
On Ripon’s first drive the Indians ate up 8 minutes, 35 seconds with bruising efficiency that sent the message that despite their relatively small stature and inexperience — only Willey and Delgado played varsity football last year with other expected returners either transferring or quitting the sport — they came with business in mind.
And while protecting standout players, like quarterback Nico Ilardi, who have been hobbled by injuries remains the top priority, Willey didn’t shy away from the fact that performances like the ones his fellow offensive linemen turned in sends a message to any future opponents that doubting their ability is a mistake.
“MaxPreps always has their size listed — 6-foot, 5-inch, 300 pounds,” Willey said. “We have confidence in each other, the brother right next to you, and tonight we knew what we had and we just came out, and 31-14.
“We want to make sure that every single guy on our team is safe. We only have about 25 guys on our team, and every single guy is healthy every single game because a lot of us are going both ways the entire game.”
Even when it appeared that Ripon had the game in hand, its offense still operated with a surgical precision that ate valuable clock time while at the same time slowly bleeding Sutter of any last remaining hope they had at advancing to the title game.
The opportunity to turn in a performance like that is something that Ripon head coach Chris Musseman said his offensive line has been chomping at the bit for, and it was something that they delivered on.
“They’ve asked for it all year,” Musseman said. “We’ve got Nico Ilardi and Brandon Rainer and all of these toys that we can throw it to out in the passing game and our line feels very disrespected every week,” Musseman said. “They’re always smaller and everyone thinks that they’re just going to push them around and they want games like this where they get to assert themselves.”
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email email@example.com or call 209.249.3544.