RIPON — Cody Rentfro spent much of the night plowing his way forward, but on the final play of Hilmar’s Trans Valley League championship game at Ripon he was dragged down for a 1-yard loss.
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior popped off the turf, pointed toward the scoreboard and slowly raised his index finger to the sky.
“Well, they were starting to get a little chippy, so I was just reminding them who was winning,” Rentfro said after gashing the Indians for 185 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries.
Yes, the Yellowjackets are No. 1 once again, and this time they have the throne all to themselves after outlasting Ripon 21-7 at Stouffer Field. These two squads shared the title last year, but Hilmar left little doubt on Friday.
“It’s a much closer game than the score shows,” Ripon coach Chris Musseman said. “I’m really proud of our kids. They fought hard for a team that wasn’t supposed to be here.”
Hilmar (5-0, 9-1 overall) could have won by a wider margin but threw an interception — grabbed by Michael Winters — deep in Ripon territory in the first half and turned the ball over on downs on the Indians’ 5-yard line late in the fourth.
The Indians (4-1, 6-4) could argue it may have been an entirely different result in their favor.
After struggling offensively for much of the first half, when they were held to one first down and 51 yards, the Indians put together their best drive of the game in the middle of the third quarter.
Behind tough between-the-tackles running from Brendan Fugit (five rushes, 27 yards), Luis Candido (12 rushes, 42 yards) and Riley Machado (six rushes, 40 yards), Ripon used 11 plays to get to the Hilmar 5.
The Indians came up empty-handed, still trailing, 13-7.
The Hilmar defense tightened up on the next three plays, with Xavier Burke ultimately stopping Fugit at the 1-yard line on fourth down.
“That really changed the whole tide in the game,” Musseman said. “We put that in and it’s a different mood.”
Candido punched in Ripon’s only touchdown with a 9-yard run late in the second quarter, closing the Indians in, 13-7. The scoring play was set up by Machado’s 24-yard scamper which also resulted in the lone first down of the half for the Indians.
Hilmar took advantage of short fields for its first two scores. Rentfro broke the ice with 21.3 seconds to go with an 8-yard run, capping a series that began on Ripon’s 28. Then early in the second, with Hilmar starting on Ripon’s 45, junior quarterback Tristan Crowley scored on a 12-yard keeper.
Crowley’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Klay Farris was the backbreaker with 8:39 to go in the fourth period.
“We kind of killed ourselves,” Musseman said. “We couldn’t move the ball on offense in the first half and we made some bad punts to leave them with short fields. They didn’t drive the ball on us in the first half, we gave them a short field and that was the difference. We got a short field once and we actually scored. Field position was huge in this game.”
Crowley filled in admirably for injured starting QB Chase Kindberg (season-ending MCL tear), finishing 11 of 16 for 83 yards and an interception to go with 20 rushing yards. Ripon couldn’t get its passing game going until the end, when back-up quarterback Andrew Durrer hit Aaron Paschini (two receptions, 38 yards) and Rhett Herrin for 32- and 33-yard gains before throwing a pick to Rentfro.
“Even with our quarterback out I told our kids all week I still thought if we come out and play our game that we’re the better football team,” Hilmar coach Frank Marques said. “Tristan’s a great athlete — he’s got a lot of tools.”
Both Hilmar and Ripon earned automatic bids for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. They’ll find out their seeds in the Division V bracket today.