Ripon 0 7 0 0 — 7
Hilmar 3 0 0 0 — 3
H — Andre Alves 26 field goal, 2:12.
R — Caleb Johnston 1 run (Ricky Ochoa kick), 6:40.
RIPON — Offense might win games, but it takes a strong defensive showing to topple an unbeaten Trans Valley League opponent.
And that’s exactly what the Ripon Indians relied on to knock off the visiting Hilmar Yellowjackets in a 7-3 match of wills Friday night at Stouffer Field.
After falling behind with just over two-minutes left in the first quarter, Ripon (2-0 TVL, 4-2 overall) answered back at the start of the second half with a 60-yard drive that resulted in the game’s only touchdown — a 1-yard plunge from Caleb Johnston that gave the Indians a 7-3 lead.
After Hilmar (1-1, 5-1) and Ripon traded three-and-out series following the touchdown, the Yellowjackets began mounting a drive from their own 12-yard line that took them all the way down to the Ripon 2-yard line before the Ripon defense held kept Hilmar out of the end zone — a stand that turned out to be very fruitful in the game’s second half.
“That defense saved the game for us tonight,” Ripon head coach Chris Musseman said. “Offensively we struggled, and we know we have issues there, so we were relying on our defense to come through for us in a big game and they came through for us.”
And it wouldn’t be the only important defensive play in the game that helped the Indians escape with the victory and remain unbeaten in TVL play.
After failing to covert on a fourth-down play late in the game’s fourth quarter that would have allowed the Indians to eat up even more clock and potentially secure a score that would have put the game out of reach, Hilmar took over on downs with just two minutes left in the contest.
Just one play later, with 1:40 left in the game, Hilmar quarterback Cameron Moak bobbled a snap and was unable to recover it as Ripon’s Cesar Castellanos pounced on the loose pigskin and secured a fumble recovery that gave the Indians the ball back and the chance to run down the clock in a victory formation.
“I just had to get on top of it,” Castellanos said of the loose ball that he recovered for Ripon. “We won together as a team tonight and that means everything to me — to win with my brothers like that.”
Musseman couldn’t say enough about his defense’s grit and ability to maximize opportunities when they presented themselves.
“The huge play at the end of end of the half and the big play at the end of the game — they stepped up all night,” Musseman said. “We knew the capability was there, it just hasn’t quite gelled together and tonight everything just kind of came together.
“The adversity allowed for it to come together for us tonight.”
While the victory leaves Ripon unbeaten in league, the strength of the TVL and the balance between the teams vying for its title leaves Musseman to believe that nobody will be able to get through that gauntlet unscathed.
The Indians will host Riverbank next week before traveling to Livingston — which blanked Hughson 27-0 on Friday — and then heading to take on rival Escalon in their home stadium.
“This is the most balanced I’ve ever seen the TVL. There are five teams that can win this league, and I told my guys before the game tonight that whoever wins the TVL probably isn’t going to be undefeated in league,” Musseman said. “It’s just that kind of league this year.”