10-Casa Roble (8-3) at 2-Manteca (10-1)
5-Calaveras (9-2) at
3-Ripon Ch. (9-2) at 2-Woodland Ch. (9-1)
All games start at 7 p.m.
Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors/students, free for children 5-under.
Was it an aberration?
Was it a case of a very good offense having a great game while catching a very good defense on an off night?
Or maybe Hilmar, still undefeated at 11-0, is simply a better team.
Whatever the case, Ripon (10-1) appears to have moved on from that fateful Oct. 18 night when the Indians had their 21-game Trans-Valley League winning streak — and hopes of securing a second straight title — snapped by the Yellowjackets, 33-21.
Ripon has recaptured its dominant form on the defensive end, and just in time for Friday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV quarterfinal with fifth-seeded Calaveras (9-2). The No. 4 Indians blanked Dixon in the opener 46-0 for their fifth shutout of the season and second in a row.
Since that loss to Hilmar, Ripon has given up seven points in three games.
“Our defense has played outstanding the last few weeks,” Ripon head coach Chris Johnson said. “Our coaches do a good job of getting the kids in the right spot and our players execute.”
That was surely the case over the first half of the regular season when Ripon goose egged three of its first four opponents and shut down traditional power Escalon in the TVL opener, 35-3.
Three weeks later, the battle of unbeatens. On that night, the Yellowjackets seemed unbeatable as they raced out to a 28-0 lead behind the sterling play of quarterback Jonathan O’Brien and receiver Tyler Robinson.
Ripon’s physical, attacking defense was, for once, on its heels searching for answers.
“Hilmar played about as good as anyone can play that first half,” Johnson said. “They are a very good team with some very talented players.
“But that Hilmar game caused us to refocus ourselves as a program. It has made us a better team.”
A blessing in disguise? Perhaps.
After stomping Riverbank and Orestimba by a combined 128-7 score, Ripon stuffed a Dixon squad that was riding a four-game winning streak and averaging close to 30 points per game heading into their postseason tilt. The Rams were held to 179 total yards, much of it gained in the second half with victory well out of reach.
Offensive standouts Bradley Clark, Josh Clark, Ryan Fugit, Michael Morris and Michael Ysit are also getting the job done on defense.
A punishing runner with the ball in his hands, Morris hits with the same ferocity on defense where he is the team leader with 130 tackles and 10 sacks. Kody Day, Ripon’s disruptive lineman, linebacker Davis Armstrong and Ysit each have nine sacks. Troy Burth (85 tackles) and Lucas Bunting (5 sacks) are other key members of the linebacking corps. Fugit leads the defensive backs with four picks.
Even with the Hilmar onslaught accounted for, Ripon allows just 8.7 points per game.
Johnson expects a challenge from former rival Calaveras, which averages 33 points. The Mother Lode League champion used to meet Ripon annually, and for a time it was a one-sided rivalry. The last time they met, Ripon won 14-10 in 2009 — its first win over Calaveras in at least a decade.
Ripon’s defense will keep an eye out for Mike Seawell, Calaveras’ top playmaker. He has rushed for 1,322 yards (11 per carry) and 16 touchdowns, and while the Redskins don’t throw much Seawell is their top receiver with 430 yards and four more scores through the air.
Connor Hamilton (853 yards, 10 TDs) and Danny Gilmore (607, 6) also contribute to their powerful run game.
“Calaveras has a great line that gets off the ball really well,” Johnson said. “They like to pound the ball up inside with their two backs. They also have a big play threat in Seawell, who is as good with the ball in his hands as anyone we have seen this year.”
Ripon and Calaveras have four common opponents: Linden and Bret Harte of the MLL, and Modesto Christian and Hughson of the TVL. Calaveras began its playoff run with a 40-21 win over Hughson, but has head-scratching nonleague losses to MC, 51-15, and 4-6 Lodi, 40-38.
None of it matters to Johnson.
“At this point, what happened early in the season is pretty irrelevant,” Johnson said. “It is about staying healthy and getting better. Calaveras seemed to be hitting on all cylinders against Hughson last week and they look as good as anyone we have played all year.”