The Almond Capital of the World is welcoming the Mother Lode this Friday, as Ripon and Ripon Christian’s football teams take on their biggest challenges so far this season.
Wins would be huge for the two squads that are off to 2-0 starts.
Ripon badly wants to erase a 69-7 loss to Sonora from its memory and looks forward to the opportunity to avenge its most embarrassing defeat of 2016. Ripon Christian, meanwhile, is already a win away from improving on its 2016 total, but standing in the way is 2-0 Summerville of Tuolumne.
Sonora and Summerville compete in the Mother Lode League, and about nine miles separate the two campuses. They’ll be playing separate games in stadiums that are a stone’s throw away from each other Friday night.
“The kids are very motivated,” Ripon coach Chris Musseman said. “Last year we were embarrassed, and the kids know they are better than that performance. We are both very different teams this year, and they provide a great challenge for our kids. It’s always great to challenge ourselves by playing a great program like Sonora.”
Musseman said the loss at Sonora’s famed Dunlavy Field was a “turning point” for his Indians’ season. They went on to win five of their next six games and qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
Sonora has its own reasons for playing with a chip on its shoulder.
The Wildcats are now 0-2 after a one-sided 47-13 loss to century-old rival Oakdale and a surprising 27-12 setback at Lodi. Sonora was without standout safety/running back Kane Rodgers, who served a one-game suspension after getting ejected from the Oakdale game.
Rodgers is just one of several returning studs for Sonora. Others are 6-foot-4, 270-pound lineman Otutoa Afu, 6-10, 210-pound fullback/defensive end Jack Camara and linebacker Mason Dambacher. The Wildcats are three-time defending MLL champions and won the SJS Division V title in 2015.
“Don’t let the record fool you,” Musseman said of Sonora’s inauspicious start. “Oakdale is Oakdale, and Lodi did not have to defend their best player. Not to take anything from Lodi, but Rodgers is a game changer. They are a very good team and will be very ready for us.”
For Ripon Christian, Summerville will provide the Knights a good gauge going into Southern League play. The Bears have toppled two SL members in Denair, 48-2, and Mariposa, 28-12.
Summerville could have the returning talent to compete in the rough-and-tumble MLL, which includes CIF Division VI-AA State Bowl finalist Amador and traditional power Calaveras.
Ripon Christian’s stifling defense has shut down opposing run games in lopsided road wins over Millennium and Stone Ridge Christian but is sure to get a stiffer test in Summerville. The Bears have rushed for 820 yards in games and boast four talented ball carriers in sophomore Nicholas Veach (162 yards, two TDs) and seniors Luke Fulkerson (139-2), Jared Brick (227-3) and Dominic Esquivel (248-3).
Here’s a look at other Week 2 matchups in the area:
Johansen (0-2) at East Union (1-0): Johansen has already shown improvement from its 1-9 finish in 2016, which began with lopsided blowouts favoring Hughson and Delhi.
The Vikings were more competitive against both squads the past two weeks, including a 34-28 setback against Delhi. They’re hoping to continue the trend at Dino Cunial Field on Friday. Last year, East Union rolled 65-13 in this matchup.
East Union has its own momentum to build upon. The Lancers routed Ceres 47-14 behind a punishing running game (504 yards) and stingy defense. The night belonged to junior wingback Raylan Carter, who scampered for 271 yards and four touchdowns on only six carries.
East Union is set up for a third straight 3-0 start going into the rigid VOL schedule with winless West up next.
Manteca (2-0) at Enochs (1-1): If there is a team that deserves a break from a juggernaut opponent it’s Manteca.
The Buffaloes are on the heels of back-to-back thrillers resulting in wins by a combined three points over Valley Christian and Christian Brothers. In two weeks, they host Central Catholic, a team they haven’t beaten since it returned to the Valley Oak League in 2014.
Manteca will look to head into its bye week with its perfect record still intact Friday at Gregori, where improving Enochs awaits. The Buffaloes grounded the Eagles 59-0 in their 2016 meeting.
Enochs opened 2017 with a 14-10 loss to Trans-Valley League contender Escalon but rebounded with a 31-0 blowout of West, rushing for 341 yards. Chris Butterfield, an All-Modesto Metro Conference first-team receiver last season, had 188 yards and three touchdowns on nine carries.
Sierra (1-1) at Pacheco (1-1): Sierra will be without starting quarterback Jacob Peterson, who sprained a rotator cuff during last week’s hard-earned 20-14 win at Central Valley.
Back-up QB Nick Stanley aided the Timberwolves’ first victory under new head coach Chris Johnson with a late 60-yard touchdown pass. They cap their pre-league schedule with battle-hardened Pacheco, which is coming off a 48-27 loss to Heritage of the powerhouse Bay Valley Athletic League in the North Coast Section.
Sierra’s young defense has held up well so far but will be tested by the Panthers’ attack led by returning dual-threat quarterback Aric Barton, who passed for 1,545 yards and 18 touchdowns while rushing for 568 and five last year.
Bear Creek (0-2) at Weston Ranch (0-2): Weston Ranch battered Bear Creek 71-14 last year, but the Stockton teams went in opposite directions after that.
Bear Creek went on to finish 5-5, its best record since 2004, while the Cougars went 1-6 in the VOL and missed the postseason for an 11th straight year. Both squads have since been decimated by graduation losses.
Weston Ranch aims to shore up the defense after giving up 125 points in its first two contests this season, including last week’s 77-13 loss at Edison. Bear Creek surrendered an average of 43.5 points in its losses to Grace Davis and Tokay.