A Southern Athletic League rival has robbed Ripon Christian the opportunity of avenging a defeat that was a source of motivation in the offseason.
On Friday, the Knights (10-0), seeded fourth in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI playoffs, welcome No. 12 Waterford (7-4) for the second time this season.
Many of Ripon Christian’s coaches and players were in attendance last week when Waterford stunned No. 5 Rio Vista (9-2) with an unbelievable — or “surreal,” as RC coach Trey Ozenbaugh put it — 51-44 come-from-behind win. Trailing 36-14 early in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats rallied for 37 points in the final 11 minutes, 2 seconds and the biggest first-round upset of the playoffs.
Multi-threat quarterback Michael Vivo was at the center of the comeback. He overcame four turnovers (three interceptions, fumble) by throwing for 207 yards and four touchdowns while scampering for 228 yards and three more scores.
Rio Vista struggled to hold off Vivo and the Wildcats after its best player, running back/middle linebacker Ryan Hurley, was ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct on a big hit on a receiver. He finished the season with a team-high 2,285 rushing yards, 37 total touchdowns, 80 tackles and five interceptions.
A thriller for Waterford was somewhat of a bummer for Ripon Christian. That’s because it was Rio Vista that handled the Knights a 56-28 loss in the SJS Division VII championship game a year ago, and Ozenbaugh has not shied away from expressing his team’s longing for revenge.
“We thought we would have that opportunity and obviously it’s not in the cards,” he said. “Any competitive team and coaching staff would like a shot at the team that finished their season the previous year, but Waterford did what they needed to do and it’s pretty special to have so many teams from the Southern League still involved.”
The SAL has certainly raised its status among the section’s small-school powers in recent years. Four squads from the SAL remain — Denair and Gustine face off as the Nos. 1 and 4 seeds, respectively, in a Division VII semifinal — and Orestimba nearly upset Western Athletic Conference tri-champion Los Banos, 38-31, in Division V.
It has been an up-and-down season for Waterford. After a 3-0 start, Ripon Christian tamed Vivo and the Wildcats 42-6 in the SAL opener. They went on another three-game winning streak before dropping three in a row to end the regular season, finishing 3-4 in league and in fifth place.
Waterford was limited to 198 yards of offense the last time it met the Knights. Vivo had 50 yards and two picks on 6-of-16 passing and rushed for 81 yards and a touchdown. The Ripon Christian defense forced five turnovers, blocked a punt and sacked Vivo 10 times while the balanced offense totaled 398 yards.
Waterford does have other weapons, but Vivo is what makes the offense go. For the season, he has compiled 1,869 yards and 21 touchdowns through the air along with 1,082 yards and 14 TDs on the ground. He is also one of the Wildcats’ top defensive players with 61 tackles, four interceptions and four fumbles caused.
Ripon Christian must also prepare for receiver/defensive back Ricardo Ramirez (882 yards, 12 TDs; 62 tackles, five INTs) and running back Jacob Stout (1,031 total yards, seven TDs).
“We have a pretty amazing defense,” Ozenbaugh said. The Knights have surrendered an average of 5.8 points so far. “We have a lot of talented kids that play disciplined defense, but we know how gifted of an athlete Vivo is — the stats speak for itself — and it’s not just him. We have another good test in front of us, one that I know our team is relishing.
“Waterford is coming in on a pretty big high. We look forward to a great game.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Waterford vs. Ripon Christian
WHAT: SJS Division VI quarterfinal
WHEN: Friday, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Ripon Christian Athletic Complex
ADMISSION: $10 adults, $7 seniors (60-above)/students (K-12), children 5-under free