RIPON — Ripon Christian has its own reasons to feel confident going into its Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI semifinal with Trans-Valley League co-champion Hilmar.
The No. 4-seeded Knights (9-2) opened the postseason with a 42-7 drubbing of Golden Sierra and believe they are peaking at the right time. They’re likely to be considered heavy underdogs this week against the accomplished Yellowjackets (8-3), who typically competes in higher divisions but fell to Division VI because of their small enrollment.
“We know we have to earn respect, and the best way to do that is to beat a small-school power like Hilmar,” Ripon Christian coach Trey Ozenbaugh said.
The Southern League as a whole may be longing for respect. Perhaps it has already earned some of it. League champion Orestimba toppled TVL contender Hughson 42-35 in the first round of the Division V playoffs, a result that has inspired the Knights. Ripon Christian suffered a heartbreaking 49-43 loss to still-unbeaten Orestimba in SL play, while Hilmar edged Hughson 43-42 in overtime.
“Honestly, we feel like we should have beaten Orestimba,” RC quarterback Travis Zuidervaart said. “We can hang with (Hilmar). I think we could have hung with any TVL team this year.”
They’ll have their chance to prove it Friday.
Ripon Christian is facing a prolific offense orchestrated by dual-threat quarterback Daniel Texeira, who has thrown for 2,034 yards and 29 touchdowns to go with 676 and 10 rushing. At his disposal is 6-foot-2 Alex Chavez, one of the section’s most productive receivers with 1,171 yards and 11 touchdowns on 59 catches. The Knights must also keep an eye on running backs Joshua Lee Jennings (895 yards, six TDs) and Cody Rentfro (752 yards, nine TDs).
Ripon Christian has experience with playing against quarterbacks like Texeira in Orestimba’s Joe Sheldon and Gustine’s Sebastian Figueroa. No. 3 Gustine heads to No. 2 Bradshaw Christian in the other Division VI semifinal.
“(Defensive coordinator) Eddie Erdelatz has a great scheme prepared,” Ozenbaugh said. “Another thing we’ll have to do is keep the ball offensively and finish drives.”
Ripon Christian has its own dangerous passing combo in Zuidervaart (1,802 yards, 25 TDs) and wide out Jonah Lewis (950 yards, 17 TDs), but the quarterback is putting the onus on the offensive line, anchored by 6-2, 310-pound Tyler Driesen.
“We’ve said it since the beginning of the season, it starts and ends with our line,” Zuidervaart said. “If our line plays well we could have a great game.”
Ripon Christian has reached the semifinals five straight years and lost its only final-round appearance in 2013. Hilmar has won six section titles in 11 final-round appearances.
“The kids are excited and they’re not intimidated,” Ozenbaugh said. “I feel confident that we can go down and represent the Southern League well.”