HUGHSON — It has been a while since an opponent punched Ripon on the nose on its opening drive.
That happened Friday night at Husky Memorial Stadium, where the visiting Indians — normally the ones who stagger teams early with big plays — made matters worse by coughing up five turnovers while forcing just one.
Final: 30-14, Ripon.
And it wasn’t that close.
Ripon was in full control after giving up the game’s first points just 1 minute, 36 seconds into a showdown of Trans-Valley League contenders.
Speaking of contenders, only two remain in one of the state’s best small-school conferences. Ripon had already knocked off Escalon and Modesto Christian prior to meeting Hughson (0-2, 4-2 overall), the team that TVL coaches and sports scribes in the region picked as preseason champions in separate polls.
How soon they forget that these same Indians are the defending champion, and they have won 21 straight regular-season games.
“Seven and oh, baby!” Ripon head coach Chris Johnson howled in the team’s postgame huddle.
Next, week Ripon heads to Hilmar for a Week-7 battle of unbeatens. Two struggling teams in Riverbank and Orestimba follow, then a well-timed bye going into the postseason.
“Nobody really thought we could do this at the beginning of the season. It feels good to be here proving everyone wrong,” said Michael Ysit, Ripon’s dynamic running back. “We are playing with a little bit of a chip on our shoulders, especially with these guys (Hughson) being the preseason TVL champs.
“We know we have a good team but we know Hilmar is a good team, too. We’re definitely going to have to prepare well for them.”
The area’s second-leading rusher added to his totals with 216 yards and four touchdowns on just 12 carries. His first three scoring scampers of 44, 75 and 37 yards were on the first plays of drives. He ran in the Indians’ final points on a 2-yard sweep with 1:29 to go in the third quarter, making it 30-7.
“It’s a big momentum shift for us,” Ysit said of the big-play touchdowns. “We were fumbling the ball a lot so we needed that. We had a good game plan coming into tonight. We knew where the holes were going to be and coach was calling the right plays.”
Ripon dominated the first half but only had a 13-7 lead to show for it. It outgained the Huskies 291-79 by halftime, but three turnovers inside the Hughson 30 kept the Indians from busting it open early. A fourth turnover was committed on a punt return.
The giveaways ultimately didn’t hurt the Indians. That’s because the swarming defense had fully clamped down on Hughson’s powerful backfield triumvirate of Tanner Duron (11 rushes, 3 yards), Andrew Ocegueda (6 rushes, 26 yards) and Kyle Kerlee (13 rushes, 86 yards, TD). Kerlee racked up the majority of his yards on a late 45-yard run against Ripon’s reserves.
Hughson needed just four plays to score on its impressive opening drive, which consisted of a 10-yard scramble by QB Devondre Stendardo, a 16-yard reverse from Kerlee and a short pass completion from Stendardo to Ocegueda that turned into a 49-yard touchdown.
That would be Stendardo’s only completed pass for the night, as he missed on his next 12 attempts that included an interception by Bradley Clark.
“That was just a miscommunication on defense and it was actually my bad,” said Michael Morris, Ripon’s hard-hitting linebacker. “I got caught up on (trying to stop) the run when I should have been covering (Ocegueda) because we were in man (coverage).
“We weren’t too worried about it — we know how good our defense is, and our offense can move the ball down the field on most teams.”
Just how good was Ripon’s defense Friday? Hughson tallied all three of its first-half first downs on that opening drive and didn’t have another until a Ripon defensive back was flagged for pass interference with 5.5 seconds left in the third quarter.
Morris added 80 yards on 17 rushing attempts on offense. Sophomore quarterback Nick Price (6-of-14, 106 yards, interception) hit Clark four times for 75 yards.