RIPON – It all came down to a single drive.
Down two points with just over five minutes left in the game, the Ripon Indians knew that their hopes for advancing in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Division IV playoffs rested in the 50 yards between the line of scrimmage and the end zone.
All they had to do was get past a stingy Livingston defense that had stifled Ripon’s offense all night long.
They turned to junior fullback Josh McCreath pick up the hard yards that the team needed. There was no mistaking what they were going to do. McCreath got the ball, hit the hole and drove his legs as hard as he could. He managed to pick up a pair of first downs and put the Indians within striking distance, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the 12-10 margin that the Wolves rode out to victory.
Facing fourth-and-4 with three minutes left in the game, head coach Chris Johnson asked freshman kicker Mauricio Aguirre to boot the 35-yard field goal that would have given the Indians a one-point lead. He had already nailed a 25-yard field goal earlier in the game.
Aguirre took his steps, watched the ball get set and blasted it with the laces of his cleat. It fell short.
“I just wanted to win. I wanted to do everything that I could to give our team the best chance to win, and that’s what was going through my mind,” McCreath said. “We knew that they were going to be tough but we came out flat and we didn’t make the plays that we needed to.
“I’m proud of what we did this season, but we wanted to go all the way and that’s not going to happen and it sucks.”
McCreath finished the game with 113 yards on 24 carries and scored Ripon’s lone touchdown.
Friday marked the first time in nearly 20 years that the Indians (8-3) hosted a home playoff game at Stouffer Field. In three plays Ripon’s typically proficient offense secured a first down. After that the offense sputtered under the pressure of the Wolves’ heavy-pressure defense – punting on each of the next three possessions.
And a costly Kyle Wengel interception – snagged by Livingston Gabe Deol – ended up leading to a touchdown.
Defensive standout Jake McCreath put pressure on Deol, who also starts at quarterback, and helped contain the seven running backs in Livingston’s stable, and made a huge play when he caught a bobbled punt that ended up leading to Aguirre’s 25-yard field goal.
But other opportunities to put the game out of reach were never converted.
“They made plays and we didn’t. We had opportunities and we just couldn’t capitalize,” Ripon head coach Chris Johnson said. “My hat is off to them. We couldn’t get anything going on offense. We did things tonight and they just did it better – we couldn’t finish for whatever reason.”
While it’s a tough way to end a season, Johnson said that Aguirre has a bright future as a kicker and just ended up in a pressure-filled situation that would be hard for anybody to handle – let alone somebody who has never experienced something like that.
He also commended McCreath’s running performance for helping setup the kick and credited the offensive line for helping pave the way.
“It’s tough to put him in that situation,” Johnson said of Aguirre. “He hit it well and it just got a little bit short. If he hits it right then it’s a completely different situation.
“You’ve really got to give credit to Josh because he runs hard and smashes really hard and makes those yards happen. A big part of the reason that he’s been able to do that is the offensive line – they’ve been getting it done all year. It’s just too bad we couldn’t finish it the way we wanted to.”
Livingston will now face the Hilmar.