They’ve been on a collision course for months, but Ripon Christian and Le Grand still have one game left before their worlds collide.
Not that either is lusting for the showdown.
Not yet anyway.
For now, at least, the orders are clear for the Southern League’s unbeaten: Avoid injury and letdown against an opponent lurking in the standings.
Ripon Christian (5-0 Southern League, 7-1) travels to Gustine to face the much-improved Redskins, who should be motivated by a shutout loss to Le Grand (5-0, 8-0) last week.
The Redskins winded early by three touchdowns by Christian Williams in the first quarter and never recovered, bowing to the perennial champions 55-0.
At 4-4, though, Gustine (3-2 in league play) has matched its total number of wins from 2009-2012, a string of four consecutive 1-9 seasons.
The agents of change have been seniors Isaiah Figueroa and Iancarlo Morales.
The Knights will have to account for Figueroa on both sides of the ball. He’s averaging 163.3 rushing yards per game and is a threat to throw the ball. He’s completed 12 of 16 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns.
Figueroa also ranks among the team leaders in tackles (41) and sacks (2). Though small for a lineman, the 5-foot-7, 170-pound Morales anchors the defense with 91 tackles.
“That team is playing much better than they have in the last four years,” Ripon Christian first-year head coach and former offensive coordinator Randy Fasani said.
The Knights are flying high following a 60-24 victory over Waterford, an evening that furthered the legend of running back Andrew Brown.
More on Brown in a second.
It’s important to keep close tabs on Le Grand, too, because the Bulldogs have the tougher of the two paths. Le Grand welcomes longtime rival Mariposa this Friday evening for their annual Green and Gold Game.
The Grizzlies hope to have a say in the Southern League championship. Mariposa is 4-1 in Southern League play and 7-1 overall, and their only loss was a narrow one – 27-21 to Ripon Christian.
A victory would introduce a third party to what has been a two-team race to this point. Ripon Christian and Le Grand are no strangers to company at the top of the standings; the two shared the 2012 title with Waterford.
The Wildcats snuck into the picture with a resounding Week 8 victory over Ripon Christian, which may have been caught looking ahead to a trip to Le Grand.
Still smarting from that loss, Ripon Christian has adopted the “one game at a time” mantra.
“Our goal is to win the Southern League and to win a section championships,” Fasani said. “They’ve stayed very (committed) when it comes to the next game is the most important.”
Brown passed the test.
Minutes after Friday’s redemption win over Waterford, the third-year varsity back turned his focus to Friday’s trip to the Westside, sidestepping questions about Le Grand.
“It’s not hard at all,” Brown said. “The next game is the most important.”
No doubt Gustine is giving Brown the same attention.
The Knights’ offensive catalyst had 538 all-purpose yards against Waterford, decimating a traditionally stout defense. The breakdown: 289 rushing, 166 receiving and 83 in returns.
Through eight games, Brown’s numbers are simply silly.
With seven touchdowns on Friday night, Brown now has a state-best 38 – five more than the next player on the list.
He leads the Sac-Joaquin Section in rushing with 1,705 yards on just 147 carries and has had five straight games of 200 yards or more.
Of the section’s top-17 in total yards, which combines rushing, receiving and passing, Brown is the only non-quarterback on the list. He ranks sixth with 2,312 yards, ahead of Sierra High gunslinger Jake Pruitt (No.9, 2,080 yards).
“I don’t even think about stats. I don’t even think about how many touchdowns I’ve scored,” Brown said after Friday’s spectacular seven-touchdown performance. “It’s not what’s driving me. I don’t play for stats.
“It’s all about what’s best for the team.”