Woodland Christian 8 8 0 0 — 16
Ripon Christian 6 8 8 6 — 28
R — Grant Sonke 5 run (kick missed), 8:14
W — Billy Hinkle 1 run (Noah Hinkle pass from Billy Hinkle), 5:12.
R — Brady Grondz 42 pass from Trey Fasani (Jace Beidleman pass from Fasani), 10:20.
W — Billy Hinkle 41 pass from Caden Pascoe (Pascoe run), 1:36.
R — Beidleman 25 pass from Fasani (Sonke run), 8:26.
R — Eli Terpsma 14 pass from Fasani (run failed), 6:37.
STOCKTON — Plagued by penalties, dropped passes and injuries, Ripon Christian still managed to get its hands on that once-elusive Sac-Joaquin Section championship banner.
The top-seeded Knights made enough big plays on offense, and the defense sculpted a second-half masterpiece capped by an interception in the end zone to roll past No. 3 Woodland Christian 28-16 in the Division VII final Friday at St. Mary’s High’s Sanguinetti Field.
Both teams were oh-fer in previous SJS finals; Ripon Christian dropped its first three appearances, while the Cardinals fell to 0-2. The Knights (11-2) will now get to play in their first California Interscholastic Federation NorCal Bowl Game. They’ll find out their opponent and placement on Sunday.
“We just came together,” Ripon Christian quarterback Trey Fasani said. “We focused on not getting too high or too low and fighting for the people who got injured. Not getting caught up in the penalties, or when the other team was talking to us. Just had to stay consistent like how we practice and how we normally play.”
The even-keel approach helped Fasani get through a tumultuous first three quarters that included four dropped passes and three turnovers (two interceptions). One of those drops went through the hands of a receiver in the end zone.
Fasani hit six different receivers while completing nine of 24 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns.
“Trey was big tonight. Trey is big every single night,” Ripon Christian coach Phil Grams said. “He’s our leader and one of our captains, and we’re going to ride him. He grows every single time. Even when there’s a mistake, he grows from it and gets better for the next play.”
Ripon Christian lost some steal in the middle of the second quarter when 6-foot-5 receiver Griffin De Abreu tweaked his right knee after making a 37-yard catch. He returned in the second half but was helped off the field on the team’s final drive of the game after appearing to reinjure the same knee.
Thys Van Der Hoek, a 6-foot-8 tight end, was carted off the field in the third quarter with what is believed to be a dislocated kneecap. Fullback/linebacker Grant Sonke (eight rushes, 49 yards, TD) and two-way lineman Jacob Kowes (eight tackles) also came up gimpy in the second half second half but with less-serious afflictions.
“Even without some of our starting players, we have people behind them who can make plays also,” Fasani said.
He delivered a 42-yard touchdown strike to Brady Grondz while scrambling to his left to give Ripon Christian a 14-8 lead with 10:20 left in the second quarter.
The Knights jumped ahead for good with 8:26 to go in the third quarter when 6-7 tight end Jace Beidleman reached above his head to catch a laser from Fasani for a 25-yard score. Midway through the fourth, 6-3 receiver Eli Terpsma gave his team some breathing room with a 14-yard snag.
Derek Van Elderen finished as the team’s leading rusher with 96 yards on 13 carries. Ripon Christian outgained the Cardinals (11-2), 389-290. The defense held them to just 97 yards in the second half.
“Eddie Erdelatz, our defensive coordinator, let’s these guys play in a fun defense where they can pin their ears back,” Grams said. “Once they get dialed into what the other team is doing, they just kick butt, and Eddie lets them kick butt.”
Terpsma paced the defense with 16 tackles, and Preston Zuiervaart had 10. Beidleman forced a fumble and recovered another. Lineman Cote Windowski contributed six tackles and, along with Terpsma, was in on multiple stops behind the line of scrimmage.
Grondz (eight tackles) made the last defensive play of the night for RC. The 5-10 defensive back leaped in front of 6-2 sophomore Carter Lang (six receptions, 61 yards) in the back of the end zone for an interception with 5:19 remaining.
Offensively, he totaled 104 yards (85 receiving) on six touches.
“To be honest, when I came down I didn’t really believe I had it,” Grondz said of the pick. “I didn’t know what to do. I got up and was really tired. I was trying to celebrate with my teammates, but I was gassed.”
Fasani and the offense took it from there, running out the clock behind some hard running from Van Elderen.
“Their defensive line is huge,” Grams said of Woodland Christian, which is anchored by 6-5, 340-pound Noah Rico, 5-11, 310-pound Santos Nixon and 6-0, 250-pound Shane Osborne in the trenches.
“We just kept telling our guys, ‘Stay on your blocks, stay on your blocks. We’re going to get them in the second half.’ And with (offensive coordinator Randy Fasani’s) great play calling, we were able to mix it up on them and get the run game going. Our team played really well against a team that was much bigger than them.”
Billy Hinkle led Woodland Christian with 156 yards from scrimmage (96 rushing) and accounted for both of the Cardinals’ touchdowns, a 1-yard run and 41-yard pass play. Caden Pascoe finished 15-of-19 passing for 165 yards.