RIPON – It’s easy to see why Ripon would have come out bright-eyed Friday night in its home Trans Valley League matchup against defending CIF Small School State champion Escalon.
The Cougars are once again in the running for a State Bowl bid and they shut out their last two opponents by a total of 140 points.
A series of defensive stands in the second half, however, seemed to wake up a Ripon team that all of a sudden gained its confidence back in droves. By shutting down Escalon’s high-power offense, the Indians took the ball and managed to cut a three-touchdown deficit down to one.
But as the Indians found out the hard way, spotting a team like Escalon three early touchdowns can be dangerous. By forcing Ripon to play from behind, the Cougars were able to capitalize on the Indians’ mistakes and rode out a 31-14 victory.
“Those defensive stands were huge because we needed to stop them, and when we did it built up a lot of confidence,” said defensive end Jake McCreath – an integral part of the three key defensive stands. “We started believing in ourselves and we could see that if we were able to play with these guys we can play with anybody.”
Escalon (2-0, 6-0) relied on the slow-but-steady production of workhorse back Matt Roberson to both eat up clock time and move the chains. While it was standout Josh Miguel who had the big runs early in the game, it was Roberson who set the tempo for the deceptive wing-t offense.
He finished the game with 120 yards rushing on 25 carries with three touchdowns.
Ripon (0-2, 4-2), on the other hand, couldn’t get its running game going the way they wanted to against Escalon’s stingy defensive front. Anthony Baciocco – who has averaged more than 4 yards per carry in every game this season – finished with negative rushing yards, while Josh McCreath only had 28 yards on his 12 attempts.
That wall forced quarterback Kyle Wengel to throw 28 passes. Wengel started slow, but he connected on 10 in a row and finished with 17 completions. The two touchdowns that Ripon had were both thrown by Wengel, but so were the four interceptions – two of which killed crucial drives that had big implications during the game.
For Ripon head coach Chris Johnson, the story of the game boiled down to seeing his players realize that they can play at that same elite level when they all start working together on the same page.
“I told our guys that they practice with this intensity week in and week out, but they put their pants on the same way that we do. If we put that effort in that we too can be capable of playing that way,” Johnson said. “(Those defensive stops) were huge because it showed we were able to step up and it gave us a shot and an opportunity.
“But you can’t spot a team like Escalon three touchdowns and expect that not to come back. I think this game showed our guys that we’re capable of playing at that level, we just need to do it consistently.”