AT A GLANCE
WHO: Ripon Christian vs. Woodland Christian
WHAT: CIF Northern Regional Bowl qualifer
WHEN: Saturday, 11 a.m. kickoff
WHERE: Hughes Stadium, Sacramento City College
ADMISSION: $15 general admission, $12 seniors/military, $9 high school students with ID, children 5-under free (tickets sold through GoFan only)
Sac-Joaquin Section champions Ripon Christian (12-1) and Woodland Christian (12-0) have been on a collision course since the last time they squared off.
They’ll clash again Saturday morning with a California Interscholastic Federation Northern Regional Bowl Game on the line. The rematch is set for an 11 o’clock start at Sacramento City College’s famed Hughes Stadium.
Last year, they met in the SJS Division VII final with Ripon Christian shutting out the Cardinals in the second half en route to the 28-16 win and its first championship banner.
The Section decided to break up the Division VII bracket into two for this season and things played out as expected; Ripon Christian rumbled through the eight-team Division VII-A competition to repeat, while Woodland Christian coasted to the VII-B title. The VII-B bracket consisted of only four teams, so the Cardinals had a bye.
Woodland Christian is one of two teams (Twelve Bridges) in the SJS with an undefeated record.
“They’ve definitely gotten a little better and so have we,” RC coach Phil Grams said. “They’re very talented and very big, but we’re talented and we’re big, too. It’s going to be a good game, just like it was last year.”
One big difference for Woodland Christian is the emergence of dual-threat quarterback Gabe Sanchez. The senior torched Stone Ridge Christian in the SJS Division VII-B final last week, completing 13 of 21 passes for 271 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown on 10 attempts.
For the season, he has completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 1,492 yards, 20 touchdowns against just one pick and is Woodland Christian’s leading rusher (446 yards, 9.1 per carry, five TDs) despite missing multiple games with a knee injury.
“He poses a problem — he can run and he can pass, but we have a good defense that is well disciplined,” Grams said. “We feel very good about our chances.”
Since its Week 0 63-41 loss to upper-division Central Section power Central Valley Christian, the Knights’ defense has shut out nine of its next 12 opponents.
Of the teams RC has already played this season, Southern Athletic League rival Le Grand is most comparable to Woodland Christian’s when it comes to a prolific passing attack.
The Cardinals boast several big-play weapons who will look to test Ripon Christian’s ball-hawking secondary, such as sophomore Noah Hinkle (660 receiving yards, 334 rushing, 16 TDs), 6-foot-2 receiver Devin Herrera (426 yards six TDs) and 6-2 Carter Lang (417 yards, three TDs).
“Le Grand throws it as well as anyone,” Grams said. “It took us a little while to adjust when we played them (in a 56-14 win), but we feel like we can defend the pass as well as the run. It’s a different challenge as it was the last few weeks, for sure. It should be a good ball game against another really good team.”
Up front, the Cardinals have the size to match Ripon Christian’s.
Most noticeable is 6-7, 360-pound left tackle/defensive end Noah Rico. Shane Osborne (6-0, 250) and junior Zander Gimenez (6-2, 265) are other key two-way contributors in the trenches.
Like RC, Woodland Christian has been dominant leading up to this NorCal qualifier, recording six shutouts along the way. The Cardinals do have noteworthy wins over SJS Division VI finalist Bradshaw Christian and Division V quarterfinalist Pioneer.
Bradshaw Christian takes on Hughson in the D-VI final at 3 p.m. on Saturday, and the D-II showdown between Rocklin and St. Mary’s follows at 7.
Hughes Stadium will also host three finals on Friday: Casa Roble vs. Twelve Bridges in Division V at 11 a.m., Woodcreek vs. Grant in Division III at 3 p.m. and Oak Ridge vs. Folsom in Division I at 7 p.m. Also on Friday is the D-IV championship between Patterson and Escalon held at St. Mary’s in Stockton.
“The guys are looking forward to playing at Hughes Stadium,” Grams said. “The captains went out there for a walkthrough and got to check it out. We’re fired up to play on the big stage.”