HILMAR — Ripon found itself cruising early Friday night at Hilmar after scoring the first three touchdowns of the game.
And the Indians nearly let it — along with a piece of the Trans-Valley League title — slip between their fingers.
In what was shaping up to be a running-clock blowout, the Yellowjackets proved that down is not out after coming back to within a touchdown of the lead before running out of time, and Ripon escaped with a narrow 34-28 victory.
The Indians (4-1 TVL, 7-3 overall) are part of a three-way share for the TVL championship with Escalon and Modesto Christian.
“They’re a good football team, and I told my guys that they were going to come to play tonight,” Ripon coach Chris Musseman said. “We had some huge defensive plays early in the game and we were able to convert on those opportunities, and that proved to be the difference tonight.
“Our kids rallied and rose to the occasion and they’re TVL champions as a result, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Hilmar (2-3, 5-5), fighting for a spot in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs, showed flashes of what its offense could do on the game’s opening drive when quarterback Tristan Crowley connected with Carter Azevedo for a 38-yard pass that looked to have the Ripon defense on its heels. But on the ensuing play, Justin Rentfro dropped the ball when hit behind the line of scrimmage and Gregory Clark pounced on it for Ripon.
Ripon’s first offensive snap resulted in a 65-yard touchdown run from QB Ryan Daggett that drastically shifted the momentum and helped give the Indians the boost needed to kick it into overdrive.
Daggett would score Ripon’s second touchdown less than five minutes later, a 21-yard scamper.
“We definitely came out strong and got that early lead and then maybe let off just a little bit, and that’s when Hilmar surged back into the game,” Daggett said. “But our guys fought hard tonight just like they’ve fought hard all season, and it feels amazing to be standing here as TVL champions.
“I’ve been blessed with an amazing offensive line, I’ve been sacked less than five times all season, and that makes all of the difference in the world. Now it’s time to focus on our goals and get ready for whoever we’re going to play next week in the playoffs.”
The Yellowjackets turned the ball over four times in the game’s first half, and Ripon converted two of those takeaways into touchdowns that would prove to be the difference in the game.
Daggett finished the game 6-of-12 from the pocket for 109 yards and a touchdown, and racked up 105 yards and two touchdowns as Ripon’s leading rusher.
After making adjustments in the second half, Hilmar’s offense came alive as Crowley and Azevedo proved to be a dynamic combination They connected on eight passes for 103 yards and three touchdowns, and Crowley would finish the night 16-of-34 for 209 yards and three scores.
“We knew they were going to be tough, and they made some adjustments and started to get some traction there in the second half against us,” Musseman said. “But I’m proud about how we battled through the adversity. Now it’s time to focus on next week.”