SALIDA – Ripon defensive backs Mario Roach and Nick Price arrived late to their mark, crashing into one another at the goal line.
The two tumbled into the end zone, spinning around in time to see the target – Chris Brown – flip the ball to the referee.
It was a frustrating sequence for a program looking to assert itself in this Trans-Valley League title race, and one that played out over and over again on Friday … like a song stuck on its hook.
Touchdown, Modesto Christian. Touchdown, Modesto Christian.
Brown slithered and then the sped away from the defense all evening, gobbling up 223 yards of total offense and three touchdowns in a 44-30 statement win over Ripon at Ron Blakeley Field.
Ryan Fugit scored three second-half touchdowns as Ripon (2-1, 3-5) finished with a flurry, but it wasn’t enough to erase a disastrous first half. The Indians turned the ball over on three straight possessions, allowing the Crusaders (3-0, 7-1) to seize momentum and control of the scoreboard.
Modesto Christian turned the fumbles into 16 unanswered points and eventually a 30-9 halftime advantage.
“It’s just mistakes. A team like that, you can’t turn the ball over three times in a row. That’s what happened in the first half and it took the wind right out of our sails,” Ripon head coach Chris Johnson said. “That’s a good football team. They’re big, strong, physical guys, and they capitalized on it.”
Behind all-state center Kory Mora and a massive offensive line, the Crusaders attacked the undersized Indians from all angles, deploying a multi-pronged rush attack.
Brown, a fast-action wingback, was the centerpiece. The slippery sophomore carried the ball 18 times for a game-high 176 yards, and scored on runs of 32, 15 and 6 yards.
“He is pretty incredible for a sophomore. He’s a special kid,” Johnson said. “He’s got good speed and he’s a stronger runner than we gave him credit for. He didn’t go down. He dragged a lot of our guys.”
Brown also had a catch for 47 yards on Modesto Christian’s second play from scrimmage. With everyone in the stadium thinking run, quarterback Luke Andrew lobbed a deep ball down the sideline for Brown, who had a step on the cornerback.
Zack Schott found the end zone on the next play, covering the final 20 yards to complete a lightning-quick opening drive. Modesto Christian raced 75 yards on three plays in just 63 seconds.
Schott would finish with two touchdowns. Marcus Warren chipped in with 91 yards on 13 carries, including a 9-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Modesto Christian came into the game averaging 340 rushing yards and eclipsed that mark with 365, a majority of which came during a dominating opening half.
The Crusaders’ Wing-T offense amassed 225 rushing yards before halftime, most of which came on long gains. Modesto Christian had 13 plays of 10 or more yards in the first 24 minutes.
“That size of that line, those are big guys and they got some big, fast backs that are right there with them,” Johnson said. “They’re going to be tough to beat in the TVL.”
The Crusaders and Indians entered the night tied atop the TVL standings with Escalon at 2-0. Though Ripon falls off the pace with the loss, Fugit and Co. realize the season is far from over.
The Indians, who had won two straight after opening the season with losses in four of their first five games, can deliver a statement of their own next week at Escalon.
The Cougars remain in a first-place tie with Modesto Christian following a 55-12 victory over Riverbank on Friday.
“We’re going to take this game like we did all preseason,” Fugit said. “We’re going to get better from this and come out and get the win next week.”
Johnson is encouraged by the way his team finished Friday’s game.
Ripon outscored Modesto Christian in the second half, 21-14, with all three scores delivered by Fugit. The senior finished with a 59 hard-fought yards on 14 carries, shaking off the fumbled exchanges that doomed Ripon earlier in the evening.
“It’s about pride,” Fugit said. “You have to suck it up and say, ‘We’re not going to take this.’ We’ve been down before. We knew how to come back.
The turnovers are deflating “for a second, but you have to let it go or it’s going to eat you up. We went into halftime and said, ‘It’s time to go.’ ”