RIPON – Two running backs chasing each other in the stat book found themselves on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum Friday evening.
Le Grand’s Ryan Martinez bounced near the 40-yard line, pounding the number on the front of his jersey as his teammates rallied around him.
“Ten and oh,” he said. Thump! Thump! “Ten and oh.”
Meanwhile, Ripon Christian dynamo Andrew Brown choked back tears of frustration following a disappointing 47-14 loss at Stouffer Field.
The Bulldogs (7-0, 10-0) – the Southern League’s resident champion – claimed the Southern League crown as their own on Friday evening, burying one bone after another in the end zones at Stouffer Field.
Martinez did most of the digging, gashing Ripon Christian’s defense for 287 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
For one night, his star shined brighter than Brown’s, who climbed into the state’s all-time top-10 for career touchdowns with a 29-yard effort in the fourth quarter. Brown is in a three-way tie for ninth place with 113 TDs, according to Cal-Hi Sports.
“It was a lot of hard work to get here. I love this team,” said Brown, tears streaming down his cheeks. He finished with 121 hard-fought yards on 24 carries but was knocked for a loss eight times.
“If you love this game, you hate losing.”
The victory continued a familiar theme in the Southern League.
Le Grand has now won five consecutive championships, earning this one outright after sharing the 2012 banner with Waterford and Ripon Christian (6-1, 8-2).
The Knights earned their share a season ago, snapping the Bulldogs’ 28-game league winning streak with a 35-21 victory.
Revenge was served in cold, punishing doses on Friday evening. Le Grand scored the game’s first 20 points and continued to ring up the scoreboard until there was 2 minutes, 39 seconds left on the game clock.
“They’re a well-coached team and Brown is stat monster,” Le Grand coach Rick Martinez said. “They snuck up on us last year and we got that monkey off our back. We wanted to be the No. 1 team and we had to execute to get that.”
The Knights turned the page quickly following the loss. Though it felt like the world was crashing down around them, head coach Randy Fasani reminded Brown and others that the ultimate prize was still in play.
The Knights figure to be a major player in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI playoffs and they’ll learn their fate today. Seedings for all six divisions will be announced today during a live online show.
“We already have,” Fasani said when asked about how his team would move on from its first loss in seven weeks. “We were just talking about winning the section championship.
“I told them to keep their heads up. We got beat by a quality opponent. This is good preparation for the teams we’ll play in the playoffs.”
After exchanging interceptions to start the game, Le Grand followed its massive offensive line to victory. Martinez scored the Bulldogs’ first four offensive touchdowns, scoring on runs of 25, 40, 1 and 3 yards.
It was a show of force by the senior, who has been virtually unstoppable in the last month. In his last three games, Martinez has rushed for 805 yards and 12 touchdowns.
On Friday, he sought yards at all costs – even if it meant barreling over his own teammates.
“He played amazing tonight,” Fasani said.
The defense even got into the act.
Cornerback Ricardo Jacobo scooped up a fumble at the Ripon Christian 36-yard line and waltzed into the end zone as Le Grand closed the first quarter with two touchdowns in a 55-second span.
The Bulldogs led comfortably at the half, 27-7.
Though it was dominated up front, Ripon Christian was often its own worst enemy.
For the first time in league play, the Knights’ mighty offense flinched.
Quarterback Billy Marr (15 of 24, 182 yards, one touchdown) threw an interception on the game’s first play, short-arming a pass to Brown wheeling out of the back field.
Marr finished with three interceptions, including one that was returned 64 yards for a score by Christian Williams at the start of the fourth quarter.
“We made too many mistakes in the beginning,” Fasani said. “We were stuck inside our own 20 for three drives in a row due to mistakes.
“It was the physicality of their defense, but we also had some players make mental mistakes.”
Ripon Christian found its way onto the scoreboard late in the first half when Marr found Ethan McMurray alone in a seam.
McMurray bobbled the catch but corralled it for a 26-yard score with 1:03 left.
The excitement was short-lived, though. Frank Contreras marched Le Grand down the field in less than 50 seconds, connecting with Williams on a 42-yard pass play to the Ripon Christian 1-yard line.
Martinez plunged over the goal line with 18.1 seconds left to steal back momentum.
“That’s football,” Brown said. “There are going to be highs and lows. We’ll use this as motivation. When you lose, you want to come back harder than ever.”