Christian Williams might be the most dynamic return man in the nation. On one leg even.
Record-setting running back Ryan Martinez has the brains to go with all that brawn. The Le Grand valedictorian, who has rushed for more than 1,500 yards, often rewards his caretakers – the linemen – with meals.
Yes, Le Grand possesses a formidable 1-2 punch with Williams and Martinez, but they’ve got something else working in their favor Friday night: Revenge.
It would appear the Bulldogs have little to prove after a magical stretch that includes four Southern League titles, four straight Sac-Joaquin Section finals appearances, three straight section championships and a trip to Carson for the 2011 state bowl.
But there’s one blip on their Southern League track record that grinds and gnaws on head coach Rick Martinez and this current litter of Bulldogs.
Le Grand has won 34 of its last 35 league games with its only loss coming at home to Andrew Brown and the Knights last year. The two meet again on Friday, this time under the lights at Stouffer Field.
Ascasonage Martinez says Le Grand underestimated the Knights, who had just come off a one-sided loss to Waterford. The Bulldogs’ sights were set on the Division V playoffs and a potential first-round bye.
While they weren’t looking, Ripon Christian orchestrated a stunning defeat, 35-21, earning a share of its first-ever Southern League title while snapping the ‘Dogs’ 28-game league winning streak.
“It’s been spoken of with this group since Day 1. After Waterford got by Ripon Christian, I would say they (his players) overlooked them. We were looking at the playoffs. They got by us. This group has not forgotten that.
“This year, no one’s getting by them. They’ve spoken about that. We’re not going to allow what happened with Ripon Christian happen again. They’ve learned their lesson.”
Le Grand says its better now for that loss. It helped fuel their section title run last November, which included a 30-12 win over Waterford in the final, and its become the foundation for their plans this fall.
“We were young last year. It was a bittersweet loss. But because we were so young, I don’t know that we could have handled the bye week and come back to win,” coach Martinez said. “The loss did us good. ... It was tough but it was an eye opener. It helped us grow up a little bit.”
The Bulldogs have matured into beasts, mounting a 9-0 record with double-digit victories over each opponent. Le Grand’s “closest” game was last week’s 33-20 win at Mariposa, a game in which it led 33-13 after three quarters.
Williams was slowed last week with cramps, but has returned to top speed in practice this week. In fact, he’s played the part of Andrew Brown for the scout-team offense.
The shifty 5-foot-9 junior is second in the nation in punt returns with an average of 34.81 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s also returned one kickoff.
Williams isn’t a one-trick pony, though. He is dangerous in all three phases, particularly on the fly sweep. He’s scored seven rushing touchdowns, six through the air and had a 108-yard interception return against Livingston.
“If he touches the ball, he’s electrifying,” Ripon Christian coach Randy Fasani said. “You can see the momentum of the game get better for Le Grand and much worse for their opponent when Williams scores on special teams.”
With Williams hobbled, Ryan Martinez took the wheel against Mariposa, navigating Le Grand through a rivalry game that has become an all-day event for the section’s two southernmost schools.
Le Grand rose at 5 a.m. for a morning news cast, took an afternoon nap in coach Martinez’s classroom and then summoned the energy to silence the Grizzlies.
The younger Martinez shouldered the load. He rushed for 314 yards and four touchdowns on 27 carries. He has 518 yards in his last two games alone, with a season average of 10.97 yards per touch.
“Martinez was a beast in Mariposa,” Fasani sad. “He took the team on his back.”
Ripon Christian takes confidence in having played against players of Williams and Martinez’s caliber.
“We’ve faced guys similar to them,” said Kevin Kramer, who has 54 tackles and three sacks. “In the camp up in Sonora we faced guys from Central Catholic and Sonora. Against Ripon High, we faced (Michael) Morris, (Ryan) Fugit and (Michael) Ysit.”
Still, with Williams’ versatility and Martinez’s shiftiness and smarts, stopping them – much less slowing them down – has been a chore no one’s accomplished this season.
“Who’s the main guy? Who gets the touches? These guys don’t worry about all of that,” coach Martinez said. “They believe they’re a 1-2 punch and you can’t stop them the whole time.”