RIPON — Jacob Van Groningen’s first drive as a varsity quarterback will be a memorable one.
“I don’t think I will ever feel something this great again,” the Ripon Christian junior said following a thrilling 23-17 win over three-time defending Southern Athletic League champion Orestimba on Friday.
Considering the Knights’ injury situation, more opportunities may be in his future.
The third-string quarterback to start the season, Van Groningen relieved Cade Alger nine plays into the deciding drive with 1:20 remaining. He completed two fourth-down passes to tight end Austin Ries, the latter of which went for 22 yards and pushed Ripon Christian (3-0, 6-0 overall) ahead for good with 26.3 seconds left.
Ries (three receptions, 43 yards) earlier made a 14-yard catch on fourth-and-7. On the previous play, fourth-and-22, the Knights benefitted from an unsportsmanlike facemask penalty while Van Groningen’s first pass attempt fell incomplete.
Two plays later, Van Groningen hit Michael Kamps for a 9-yard catch up the middle and then spiked it on third down to set up the game-winning toss to Ries, who strolled into the end zone uncontested down the right sideline.
“He was wide open,” Van Groningen said. “Coach (Randy) Fasani called that play knowing he would be open.”
He finished 3 of 5 for 45 yards. The 6-foot-8 Alger (9 of 16, 105 yards, two interceptions) hurt his left shoulder while sacked by John Landeros and Maison Simas. It was the fourth time on the winning drive that he was sacked, but he also completed a huge 21-yard toss to Sean McGovern on fourth-and-17.
Alger previously split time behind center with Nolan Lingley, who is out for the year after getting shoulder surgery Friday afternoon. Van Groningen, also the Knights’ kicker and punter, has certainly earned the trust of his teammates to do the job in the future, if needed.
“He’s got that baller mentality,” Kamps said. “We always joke that he can only throw the long ball well and he found the right play to do it in the end. I’m so proud of him.”
Orestimba’s last-ditch effort to extend its 23-game league winning streak ended soon after. Jacob Bettencourt (17 of 30, 197 yards, two TDs, interception) connected with Tyler Fuller up the middle, and Fuller pitched it forward to Ripon Christian linebacker Wyatt Nichelson.
Following the turnover, Van Groningen capped off the monumental win — its first over Orestimba since 2014 — in victory formation.
“We’ve been talking about cultivating a culture of expecting to win — not hoping to win, not just playing to win but expecting to win.,” Ripon Christian head coach Trey Ozenbaugh said. “That showed in the way they battled tonight.”
Particularly on the defensive end.
The Knights needed a way to keep up with a team that came in averaging 44.6 points per game while their own offense — which ran only three plays from scrimmage in the second quarter — struggled to gain traction.
Wyatt Van Vliet led the way with 10 tackles, Drew Van Vliet (eight tackles) and Declan Van Vuren each had a sack, and Ian Vrieling contributed an interception.
Orestimba (2-1, 4-2) had its way offensively in the first half. Bettencourt hooked up with Solomon Bell and Jacob Dominguez (five receptions, 83 yards) for 7- and 31-yard touchdowns while completing nine straight passes at one point.
In the second half, the Warriors could only manage a 22-yard field goal from Ulysses Madrigal, who extended their lead to 17-8 with 3:41 left in the third period. But it was a big hold by the RC defense after an interception allowed Orestimba to start the series on the Knights’ 31.
Alger threw his second interception — a one-handed grab by Orestimba’s Tyler Vargas inside the 20 — on the first play of the fourth quarter, but the Ripon Christian attack finally hit its stride after the defense made one of its four three-and-out stops of the half.
The Knights closed in 17-15 with 6:06 left when Alger threw a perfect pass to Kamps in double coverage.
Kamps finished with 14 rushes for 130 yards to go with 48 yards on four receptions. He opened scoring on the first drive of the game. Needing a yard on fourth down, Kamps wound up with 67 and a touchdown.
Why go for it from their own 33-yard line that early in the game?
“We came to win,” Ozenbaugh said. “Randy and I looked at each other and I said ‘let’s go.’”
And with the toughest part of its schedule in the rear-view mirror, there may be no stopping these Knights from completing their first-ever perfect regular season. They head to Gustine (2-1, 4-2) next week.
Orestimba 7 7 3 0 — 16
Ripon Ch. 8 0 0 15 — 23
R—Michael Kamps 67 run (Ian Vrieling run), 9:42.
O—Solomon Bell 7 pass from Jacob Bettencourt (Ulysses Madrigal kick), 3:57.
O—Jacob Domínguez 31 pass from Bettencourt (Madrigal kick), 6:41.
O—Madrigal 22 field goal, 3:41.
R—Kamps 28 pass from Cade Alger (Jacob Van Groningen kick), 6:06.
R—Austin Ries 22 pass from Van Groningen (Kamps run), 0:26.3.