The Ripon and Ripon Christian football teams are taking the night off, their reward for a job well done in the regular season.
They’re among the 26 postseason qualifiers in the Sac-Joaquin Section to earn first-round byes. Tonight, Manteca will welcome Burbank to open Division III action, while Sierra heads to Pacheco in Division IV.
Ripon Christian achieved program-wide perfection in the regular season with little regard to how that would affect its placement in the playoffs. Head coach Trey Ozenbaugh has said all along that his players’ main objectives were to go 10-0 and garner the outright claim to the Southern League title, and the Knights did both for the first time in program history (the JV squad also finished 10-0).
They are now going after that elusive SJS banner after coming up short in the Division VII championship last year, and the Knights will have to do so in the much more daunting Division VI bracket since they reign in the SL — a Division VI league.
“We’re excited about the challenge,” Ozenbaugh said. “We’re not a tradition-rich program and we’re trying to build that here. You do that in small steps, and step one is winning league. Step two is to go deep into the playoffs.
“If we play well and stay healthy, the opportunity is there to play for the section title. We have to get through quality schools, for sure, but we’re not shying away from the challenge. We have the appropriate amount of confidence.”
Ripon Christian is seeded fourth in Division VI, a bracket dominated by the Trans-Valley League at the top. Modesto Christian (9-1), Hilmar (8-2) and Escalon (8-2) hold the top three seeds in that order and are joined by No. 7 Hughson, but there is one perennial league contender not in the mix — TVL co-champion Ripon (9-1).
That’s because the Indians, who shocked previously-unbeaten MC in a 25-22 thriller last week, are playing in Division V due to the school’s higher enrollment.
Not that head coach Chris Musseman minds. Ripon is the No. 2 seed behind undefeated Pioneer Valley League powerhouse Colfax.
“I’m happy not to play the TVL again,” he said. “We’re going to play really good teams from some bigger schools, but I don’t want to play the TVL schedule again.”
The Indians will host the Mountain House-Union Mine winner next Friday, Nov. 9, and Ripon Christian awaits Rio Vista or Waterford.
Both Ripon and Ripon Christian are taking advantage of the bye weeks. The neighboring programs each have small rosters, suiting up just 20 in their regular-season finales.
Ozenbaugh said it has been business as usual for the Knights at practice, and the addition of eight junior varsity players — many of whom he expects to contribute in the postseason — has helped them sustain their energy and intensity throughout the week.
Musseman’s squad, on the other hand, is recovering from its bruising league schedule and taking it light. The Indians are going back to basics while limiting contact. Running back Derric Roy (ribs) and receiver/defensive back Dorian Dougherty (shoulder) were both injured at Modesto Christian, and the Indians are already minus RB/DB Justin Hansen (shoulder).
“We could not have asked more from these kids this year,” Musseman said. “We have been a slow-starting team in some of our bigger games because we can’t replicate these games in practice. Last week we only had 16-17 kids in practice and that makes preparation really difficult. The guys responded and I’m real proud of how well we’ve done this year.”
Another perk that comes with a first-round bye: scouting. The Indians and Knights plan to get a firsthand look at their opponents tonight, and the expected matchups to come will be against familiar foes.
Musseman, a Tracy resident, will travel to nearby Mountain House (9-1) to watch the former TVL team — and current Western Athletic Conference tri-championship — take on 10th-seeded Union Mine. Ripon is 3-0 against the No. 7 Mustangs.
Ripon Christian’s coaches and players, meanwhile, will venture to Solano County to watch SL rival and No. 12 seed Waterford (6-4) square off with No. 5 Rio Vista (9-1).
It was Rio Vista that throttled Ripon Christian 56-28 in the SJS Division VII final a year ago.
“You’re not a competitor if you’re not excited to play a team that beat you for a section title,” Ozenbaugh said. “We know we did not play our best game against them and they beat us. Maybe we get can even up that score, but I’m not counting Waterford out.”
The Knights routed Waterford 42-6 to begin league play.