Dominic Darretta had every reason in the world to let the weight of Ripon Christian’s rematch with Stone Ridge Christian of Merced slow him down.
After all, his father Joe is the athletic director of the team he would be playing against — for the second time this season — to determine whether his team got to play for the Sac-Joaquin Division VII Section championship at Lincoln High School next weekend.
But rather than giving into the pressure, Darretta and the rest of the Knights’ defense had other plans – like shutting down the Stone Ridge running attack and holding the other Knights to just a field goal a 38-3 drubbing that will send RC to Lincoln High of Stockton to try and bring home the school’s first blue banner for football.
“It was a team effort tonight, and it felt like we were playing loose and really working together as a team,” said Darretta, who had a touchdown-saving tackle, a big tackle for a loss, an interception and a touchdown reception. “There were other things about this game, but we try to focus on the team that we’re playing that week and making sure that we’re doing what we have to do in order to be our best.
“I played for my team, and my family and my brothers and it’s a great feeling knowing that we’re going to be playing for a section championship. We’ve already achieved one of our goals this season, and now it’s time to move on to the second one.”
Joining him as defensive standouts were Wyatt Van Vliet, who notched six tackles and two sacks, and Kyle Rivera, who had five tackles and a fumble recovery that set up a Ripon Christian touchdown. Drew Van Vliet chipped in four tackles, as did Willem Hoekstra, and Michael Solario intercepted a pass.
While Ripon Christian’s defense solidified the team’s victory, it may have been the entire team’s discipline that prevented players from reacting to late hits and chronic personal fouls — a tension rooted in the blossoming rivalry between the two programs.
Earlier this season Stone Ridge lost 35-6 to the Knights of Ripon — its only other loss this year.
Over the years since Ripon Christian last appeared in a section final, Stone Ridge has been on a tear that led it to the Division VII final each of the last three seasons, winning in 2014 and 2015.
In fact, the first year that Stone Ridge won a section championship Ripon Christian again served the Merced-based Knights their only loss of the regular season, 35-28, before they eventually lost to East Nicolaus in the CIF State Division VI-AA Northern California Regional Bowl game.
While all of that went into the hype surrounding the matchup, Ripon Christian focused on not just executing its game plan effectively, but also in maintaining composure and discipline — Stone Ridge racked up 165 yards in penalties.
“We started preaching the first practice of our bye week that we needed to maintain self-control,” Ripon Christian head coach Trey Ozenbaugh said. “And if we played well enough to get a victory that we needed to go together as a team. We couldn’t have someone not play because they got ejected for reaction to helmet getting ripped off or a cheap shot.
“I addressed it that with the officials tonight before we started. I didn’t feel they handled it very well. I’m pleased that we got the win, and I’m pleased that nobody got hurt.”
While Ozenbaugh was frustrated with how some of the elements of the game were handled from an officiating perspective — including not adequately addressing a play where a Ripon Christian player was hit long after the whistle right in front of its bench — he credited his team with stepping up and maintaining its cool in the face of what he believed was tremendous adversity.
Does defense and composure win championships?
The Ripon Christian Knights will get the chance to find out on Saturday, Nov. 25 when they take on the Rams of Rio Vista at Lincoln High School of Stockton at 1 p.m.
“I’m proud of the guys for the way they played tonight and the way they carried themselves,” Ozenbaugh said. “And I’m proud that Ripon Christian is once again going to play for a section championship.”