RIPON — Jordan Sullivan is one of Ripon High’s bigger linemen, checking in at 6 feet, 2 inches and 225 pounds.
But for the better part of the Indians’ homecoming showdown with powerful Argonaut Friday, he was staring at a 6-5, 300-pound monstrosity of a tackle in the form of Daniel Lyle.
There are others like Lyle with similar girth on the line, and that’s not counting Austin Hoyt — a 6-7, 250-pound tight end who has committed to BYU.
Despite all of its physical advantages, the Goliaths of Jackson hit the turf with a thud, as the quicker and grittier Indians rolled to a 33-19 not-as-close-as-it-looks win. Colton Merriman returned a punt 66 yards to draw the Mustangs to within two scores with 5:21 left, prompting Ripon’s coaching staff to send its first-team offense back onto the field to protect the lead.
Argonaut (2-1) didn’t get its hands on the football for the remainder of the contest.
It would be considered a mild upset for Ripon, now 4-0 as it delves into its brutal Trans Valley League schedule. But how it did so with such dominance is a downright shocker.
“We just had to be soldiers,” Sullivan said. “We knew that they were going to be tough, but we’re tougher. We had to be tougher up front and handle our business.”
That they did, to the tune of a 427-209 advantage in total offensive yardage. The gap was more significant in the first half, when the Mustangs were limited to 42 yards (21 rushing) and two first downs to Ripon’s 280 and 14.
The Indians’ dynamic skill players were as impressive as they always have been so far this season, but this is a benchmark win for the little big boys in the trenches.
“We knew that Argonaut is big and physical and they come right at you,” Ripon coach Chris Johnson said. “I think we showed tonight that we have some skill guys. Those guys have been getting a lot of the attention, but our guys up front deserve some respect, too.”
As for those skill guys, second-year junior WR/DB Cole Herrin managed to stand out above the rest. His two first-half interceptions — the first a one-handed snag after the ball was deflected by Hoyt — were key. On offense he would finish with 148 yards and a touchdown on nine receptions.
“Our defense was designed so that I can stay on (Hoyt’s) side of the field,” Herrin said. “We put a decoy on him, so I just had to make sure that I stayed deep and make the big plays when I got the chance.”
Quarterback Kyle Wengel continued his surprising start to the season, completing 13 of 20 for 217 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Workhorse back Josh McCreath rambled for 97 yards and two scores on 22 carries, while Anthony Baciocco added 100 total yards (42 rushing) and a TD on 16 touches. Baciocco also ran a kickoff back 52 yards to set up Herrin’s 21-yard TD catch with 6:50 to go in the third quarter, stretching Ripon’s lead to 33-6.
All-purpose player Jake McCreath (nine rushes, 56 yards) — who at 6-4, 210 pounds was dwarfed by some of Argonaut’s giants — had some big moments in the first half.
Late in the first quarter on third-and-9 from the Argonaut 15, he took a handoff and rolled right for what started out to be a halfback pass. He tucked the football and ran it 14 yards but failed in his attempt to dive into the end zone through and over three Argonaut defenders. Baciocco would ram his way in a play later for the score and a 13-0 Ripon lead.
And with 3 seconds remaining in the first half, the Indians opted to go for six when faced with a first-and-10 on Argonaut’s 11. It was a fruitful decision, as Wengel connected Jake on a fade pattern with no time left. That sent the Indians into the locker room with a stunning 26-0 cushion.
While it wasn’t a must-win game for Ripon in terms of postseason implications, it definitely provides a tremendous shot of confidence going into the TVL, which kicks off next week at Hilmar. Then reigning Division-III state champion Escalon visits on Oct. 7 following a bye week, so it’s no cakewalk for the Indians in what is traditionally one of the toughest small-school conferences in the state.
“It’s a big win for our program,” Johnson said. “They’ve got to be the best team in the Mother Lode (League), the favorite I’m thinking. We figured we’d find out an awful lot about ourselves tonight.
“Coming in we were thinking we were pretty good, but you don’t know for sure. I figured this would be a good measuring stick for us and the kids answered the bell. They stepped up — it’s homecoming and there are a lot of distractions going on, they just have good focus.”