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Reds escape with important SAL victory
Late turnovers crush Ripon Christians chances vs. Gustine
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Ripon Christians Wyatt Van Vliet (50) wraps up Gustine tailback Brandon Garbez. - photo by GARY JENSEN/

RIPON — It was a running clock for three quarters Friday at Ripon Christian, and it wasn’t because one team dominated the other.
Quite the opposite.
Facing Gustine in a pivotal Southern Athletic League tilt that had few clock stoppages to start, the two teams went toe-to-toe with power running until the Reds finally broke through in crunch time. Aided by three fumble recoveries for turnovers in the fourth quarter, Gustine — which led 3-0 through three — took full advantage to race away with a 20-6 victory.
“No one expected us to hang this close,” Ripon Christian coach Trey Ozenbaugh said. “I’m extremely proud of our kids and the way that they fought. I don’t think the score indicates the way that we played this game. I don’t want to say that we beat ourselves because Gustine was a good opponent, but we had some costly turnovers there, too.”
Until the final two scores, it was Gustine’s Oliver Perez who was responsible for all of the points. He rushed for 88 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries and converted two PATs,  drilled field goals spanning 26 and 47 yards. The 47-yard boot pushed the Reds’ lead to 13-0 with 5:53 left.
“Perez is one of those guys who will bring it every single day,” Gustine coach Ronnie LaBry said. “One day he’ll give it to you with a long field goal, the next day he’ll give it to you with an 80-yard run and the next day he’ll give it to you with a 70-yard catch. The guy is just all-around … he’s just first class.”
Perez’s first field goal capped off the game’s first drive, which was highlighted by a 43-yard dash from Brandon Garbez (15 rushes, 73 yards). It was a stalemate for the rest of the half.
Ripon Christian (2-2 SAL, 4-3 overall) finally got untracked on the opening series of the third quarter. Mark Ozenbaugh (7 of 11, 75 yards) completed 20- and 7-yard passes on third-down plays to running back Michael Kamps, who later extended the drive with a fourth-down run. Kamps accounted for much of the Knights offense with 51 yards on 20 rushes.
Ripon Christian came away from the impressive 14-play, 8-minute drive empty-handed, however, stalling out on the Gustine 7. The Reds (4-0, 6-1) dropped Kamps for losses twice inside the 5, and Ozenbaugh’s fourth-down pass was off target in the end zone.
“We certainly needed the emotional lift right there,” coach Ozenbaugh said. “The way our defense was playing, we punch it in right there and it’s a turning point in the ball game. Not getting that ball in was definitely an emotional letdown — you could feel it on our sideline. We made adjustments at halftime, we were able to have some success with running the ball, we just couldn’t capitalize.”
Things quickly snowballed for the Knights from there. Gustine was forced to punt from its own 35 at the start of the fourth quarter, but Ripon Christian muffed it and allowed the Reds to start a new drive from the Knights’ 12 thanks to Jordan Barnett’s recovery.
The Knights had a chance to regain momentum on fourth-and-7, but Perez rumbled in from 8 yards out. Ripon Christian fumbled it again on its next play from scrimmage, leading to Perez’s long field goal. Another turnover, three plays later, helped set up Bryan Villalobos’ 1-yard touchdown that put it out of reach at 20-0 with 2:51 remaining.
“This team here, we’re not anything special,” LaBry said. “Just blue-collar, hard workers, and that’s the way we have to be throughout the year. Our offensive line and defensive line wear teams out, so the second half is where we get our work in.
The Knights tallied their only points with 55.9 seconds to go when sophomore Sean McGovern made an over-the-shoulder catch on Mark Ozenbaugh’s perfect 29-yard toss.
A Sac-Joaquin Section postseason berth is still well within reach for Ripon Christian, which has a favorable schedule in the final three weeks. Up next is a trip to Mariposa (2-2, 3-4).
“Get two more (wins),” Trey Ozenbaugh said. “This is one that was going to take a good game, a great effort and mistake-free football to get by these guys. We didn’t do that and the result is a loss. I think we have a playoff caliber team, we just have to get six (total wins).”