LODI – Billy Marr’s final pass of his junior season was a little high to the left sideline.
The stage couldn’t get any bigger for the Ripon Christian quarterback (10 for 19, 113 yards, 1 TD) during Saturday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI championship game against Bradshaw Christian at the Grape Bowl.
The Knights trailed by 21 after Bradshaw Christian’s opening first drive of the second half, which made it five touchdowns out of five possessions for Sacramento’s athletic powerhouse.
Ripon Christian still stormed back, however, thanks to some clutch stops by the defense and an almost near-complete meltdown by the Pride players and coaching staff.
The Knights (10-3) had the ball with 4:36 remaining and facing 4th-and-6 from the Pride 40.
This turned out to be Ripon Christian’s final chance.
Marr turned up incomplete for a ninth time, missing fellow junior wide out Jared Stuit (2 catches, 28 yards) on a hitch route that would have converted the first down and kept the potential game-tying drive alive.
Ripon Christian was crowned SJS Division VI runner-ups after coming up short 35-28 as the winners of the last two out of three section titles wound down the better of four minutes before taking a knee.
On the upside, the Knights will have plenty of talented underclassmen returning for the 2014-15 season, as will Marr, who will only grow and mature into being able to complete that big-time pass after now gaining that experience on high school’s biggest stage.
Along with Marr, the Knights will also be returning junior wide out Stuit along with several key players from Eddie Erdelatz’s defense that start three ways.
“We’re going to dominate next year,” said junior OL/DL Jake Schollenberg, who recovered a fumble on Ripon Christian’s third straight defensive stop that gave the offense its final hope Saturday. “We have a bright future ahead of us. You’re not going to see the last of Ripon Christian here. We’re coming back.”
Schollenberg (6-2, 230 pounds) had five tackles against top-seeded Bradshaw Christian (10-2). He hopped on the fumble that was Bradshaw’s third straight turnover after his sophomore teammate Will Kamps poked the ball out.
Kamps, who finished the season with 20 sacks and led the entire California Class of 2016 in that category, is another player coming back for head coach Randy Fasani.
Kamps finished with three tackles in the championship.
“Losing Andrew Brown is going to hurt, but I think we can rally around that,” Kamps said. “We had a lot of young guys and a lot of sophomores. We want to win it next year, that’s the goal.”
As it was Fasani’s, too.
This was the former Stanford and NFL quarterback’s first stint as the Ripon Christian head coach and led the 10th-year varsity program to its first-ever section final after coming up short in the semis twice in a row. Fasani, who was the team’s offensive coordinator the last two years and is pretty knowledgeable and creative with his playbook, had members of the media scratching their heads at his first-half calls.
His requests for Brown, the senior who finished with the most yards in the entire Sac-Joaquin Section, were limited in the first half.
Only the Ripon Christian sideline knew why.
“I was definitely limiting his carries because I didn’t know how bad it was,” Fasani said. “Obviously I didn’t want to let the newspapers know that he had a sprained MCL, but he sprained it in the Woodland Christian game. But we’re proud of him. The whole team was proud of him.”
Brown still finished with 155 yards and four TDs after receiving the ball much more in the second half in a gladiator-like effort.
“We definitely weren’t going to give up,” Fasani said. “We were going to fight till the clock said 0:00, and Andrew is our best player, so we wanted to creatively give him the ball as many times as possible (in the second half). I was feeling him out in the first half and didn’t know how bad his MCL sprain was. You can tell that it was affecting him because he couldn’t explode for long carries. He was a little slower than normal, but he kept fighting and he was productive, so we fed him the ball.”
Brown, the three-year varsity player who finished with 5,909 career yards, was a big part of the Ripon Christian varsity program rising to the heights that it did this season.
However, Brown fully comprehends the importance of the pieces around him, who for the most part will all be returning next year.
Another sophomore coming back is Ethan McMurray (6-1, 170 pounds), a solid player WR/OLB who has size and athletic ability. McMurray did a good job of matching Bradshaw’s physicality with some hard-hitting of his own on the defensive side of the ball in a gutsy performance. He also had two catches for 38 yards on offense.
Another sophomore, OL/DL Tyler Driesen (6-2, 265 pounds), is some more size and talent returning to Ripon Christian’s lines.
The future looks bright for the Knights, even after an epic effort against an established program.
Fasani & Co. have done a respectable job at developing a championship-caliber program of their own who can compete with the likes of Bradshaw Christian, who also defeated Ripon Christian in section championship games for girls soccer and baseball last Spring.