Ripon Christian is well aware of what it’s up against tonight.
“It’s a big monster to go after,” head coach Trey Ozenbaugh said.
His fifth-seeded Knights (9-2) travel to Sacramento to square off with No. 1 Capital Christian (11-0) in the semifinal round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI playoffs.
Ripon Christian’s defense has yielded only 26 points in its last four contests, two of which were shutouts. It will get its stiffest test in Capital Christian, which averages 53.5 points per game.
“Our coaches have us ready for this game,” safety Seth Silveira said. “I feel like we can hang with these guys. Our confidence is high. As long as we keep our confidence up we should be able to compete with any team.”
Capital isn’t just any team, however. It is one of just three undefeated teams in the section, sharing the distinction with national power Folsom (No. 1 seed in Division I) and Grant (No. 1 in Division II).
Ripon Christian has reason to be confident. Its winning streak was stretched to four last week in an impressive 34-13 win over No. 4 Golden Sierra on the road.
“Certainly the kids are super excited about that win,” Ozenbaugh said. “That’s a huge win for our program. Not many people expected us to get this far.”
To get any further would be the program’s greatest accomplishment. Although Ripon Christian reached a section final for the first time in 2013, the Division VI bracket is even more daunting with the likes of Capital Christian and Modesto Christian (10-1) — two teams that previously competed in Division IV for the postseason — joining the fold. Capital edged MC 23-22 back in Week 1, and many have had the rematch penciled in since brackets were released.
“Do we match up well? I don’t know, but we’re not going to complain about it,” Ozenbaugh said. “Are we going to fight and represent Ripon Christian well? You bet. We’re excited about the challenge.”
Capital Christian has many weapons in its fly sweep attack. Justice Shelton-Mosley gets the most attention, and understandably so. In eight games, the NCAA Division I prospect has racked up 1,055 yards from scrimmage, and his 20 touchdowns have come in a variety of ways (13 rushing, 3 receiving, 1 interception, 3 punt returns). The 6-foot, 180-pound standout with 4.4 40-yard-dash speed has received offers from Boston College, Duke, Harvard and Northwestern.
The Cougars have three other rushers with at least 400 yards: LeKayle Johnston (659 yards, 10 touchdowns), Nick Valdez (598 yards, 10 TDs) and Luis Gomez (400 yards, 7 TDs). Sophomore quarterback Jacob Norville (1,214 yards, 19 TDs, 2 picks) and receiver Edward Ware (420 yards, 7 TDs) can keep defenses honest through the air.
Ripon Christian is putting the onus on the offense to help keep the defensive unit fresh.
“They have a very dynamic offense, so we’re going to try and control the ball and keep that offense off the field,” Ripon Christian running back Kevin Kramer said.
Easier said than done.
The Cougars also boast a playmaking defense that has kept four opponents scoreless. Their latest victim is Vacaville Christian, which was hammered 69-0 in the opening round.
Ware is tied for fifth in the state with nine interceptions, Gomez has amassed 158 tackles and and 6-5, 245-pound defensive end Nic Aibodefe has nine sacks.
On the other side of the bracket, defending SJS Division VI champion Bradshaw Christian (8-3) visits Modesto Christian. Bradshaw held off Ripon Christian 35-28 in last year’s section finale.