RIPON — Luke Weaver rushed for four touchdowns and threw for two more Friday at Stouffer Field but wasn’t too impressed with his own performance.
“I’d give myself a ‘C,’ because I feel like I missed a lot of stuff,” he said.
While certainly not perfect, Weaver did more than enough to contribute to the Lancers’ 41-26 win over reigning Division IV-A state champion Ripon in their season opener. It also marked Mike Kuhnlenz’s debut as East Union head coach. His newly-implemented spread offense struggled at the outset but showed its explosive potential in the second half.
“Once we settled down and the butterflies went away we started to play some football,” Kuhnlenz said. “It got a little better, but still a lot of work to do.”
Weaver passed for 298 yards, completing 15 of 23 attempts to four different receivers while leading the team in rushing with 88 yards on 19 carries. East Union scored 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter on short-yardage scampers from Weaver, and linebacker Zane Salgado came up with a late interception to help the Lancers seal it.
“I thought we adjusted well and my teammates helped me adjust,” Weaver said. “I think it was mostly just jitters (at the start).”
East Union’s defense played a part in the mid-game turnaround, forcing four consecutive three-and-outs in the second quarter. That bought the offense time to find its groove. The Lancers took a 14-13 lead into halftime after Weaver hit Nickolas Luna for a 31-yard touchdown.
They never trailed again as Weaver and the passing attack hit their stride. Dylan Lee caught five passes for 100 yards and a touchdown, while Jacob Toste had five receptions for 108 yards. Toste tallied much of those yardage on back-to-back plays in the fourth quarter — 57- and 24-yard catch-and-runs that set up Weaver’s final TD run of the game.
“We have guys all over the field, guys who have been putting in work all offseason,” Weaver said. “We have the dudes that can do a lot of damage.”
Ripon’s weapons also flashed some of their game-breaking ability, but the lack of depth at the skill positions also showed.
The Indians had a promising start scoring on their first two drives for a 13-8 advantage. Their opening drive ate up 6 minutes, 2 seconds with 11 of the 13 plays coming on the ground.
“I’m super proud of the way the boys battled back,” Kuhnlenz said. “They could have easily just caved because Ripon came out ready to play ball and we didn’t, but they kept fighting. We preach one play at a time and they truly that that tonight.”
Jack Manning Ripon with 115 yards and two touchdowns on 18 rushes, while Daniel Espinoza (11 rushes, 42 yards, two TDs)) and Caleb Johnston (14 rushes, 59 yards) added some punch between the tackles.
Quarterback Dylan DeGraff completed five of 15 passes for 90 yards but had both of his towering receivers — 6-foot-7 Bronson Burrow and 6-4 Nolan Young (two catches, 47 yards) — go down with injuries. Manning and Espinoza also had to take some plays off.
“We started to run out of dudes,” Ripon coach Chris Musseman said. “We had kids get cramped, we had a couple guys dinged up, we just don’t have the depth in our skill (positions) to afford to lose two or three of them.
“We were at the end of the game and we could only run two or three plays because we had kids in positions they’ve never played. Our kids played great when we were healthy, we just have to find a way to get through games and I think we’ll be alright.”
East Union 8 6 14 13 — 41
Ripon 6 7 14 0 — 26
R — Daniel Espinoza 1 run (kick missed), 5:51.
E — Luke Weaver 47 run (David Flores run), 2:28.
R — Espinoza 3 run (Kaden Zoucha kick), 11:37.
E — Nickolas Luna 31 pass from Weaver (kick missed), 7:13.
E — Dylan Lee 25 pass from Weaver (kick missed), 10:26.
R — Jack Manning 5 run (Kaden Zoucha kick), 6:58.
E — Weaver 14 run (Lee pass from Weaver), 5:08.
R — Manning 12 run (pass failed), 1:00.
E — Weaver 1 run (Cooper Rossi kick), 11:26.
E — Weaver 2 run (kick blocked), 4:55.