RIPON — With possession of the ball for the majority of the fourth quarter and a first-and-goal from the 6-yard line, everybody packed into Stouffer Field expected visiting Calaveras to find the end zone and take the lead for the first time Friday night.
But the Ripon defense had other plans.
After holding Calaveras on three plays, Ripon's Danny Hernandez backpedaled into the end zone and broke to his right, stepping in front of a Calaveras pass and coming down with the ball for a touchback that would preserve the lead and give the Ripon offense the chance to grind out the game’s remaining four minutes for a 24-21 victory.
“That could be the drive that changes the entire season for us, the one that got the defense jump started and really proved to be crucial point,” Ripon head coach Chris Musseman said. “Our guys were getting pushed around all night, but when it came down to it they stepped up and made it count. We needed this tonight. We needed to be punched in the mouth so we could feel what it would be like to be in a fight.”
Hernandez had been playing the run nearly the entire game — Calaveras only threw the ball three times — and said that the defense had a sneaking suspicion that the play coming on fourth down was going to be a pass, and he listened to a teammate’s advice and found himself in the perfect position to make the play.
“I looked over at Roland Davis and he told me to look at the tight end, to watch the pop pass,” Hernandez said. “It’s not the way we want to finish out games, down to the wire like that, but coming away with a victory tonight is an important one for us with the game that we have next week.”
It was the first true battle that the still-undefeated Indians (4-0) have faced so far this season.
While the Ripon defense forced a punt on Calaveras’ first drive and the offense was able to make quick work of favorable field position to find the end zone of their first series — with Ryan Daggett connecting with Nico Ilardi on an 11-yard strike — Calaveras (0-3) wasn’t about to let Ripon run away with anything.
Only five plays after Ripon struck first, Calaveras swung for the fences with a deep pass from Zack Nordahl to Logan Weatherby that ended up becoming a 70-yard score that tied the game and locked the two teams into a battle that would continue until the game’s waning moments.
“We needed to be tested, to see how we would respond when things didn’t go our way,” Musseman said. “And tonight, things didn’t really go our way very much. But you want that. You need that if you’re going to advance in the season.”
Despite the fact that their aerial attack was non-existent, Calaveras used a platoon approach to carrying the ball to keep the Ripon defense guessing, and was able to amass almost 300 yards on the ground, the bulk of which was picked up John Arbuckle with his 116-yard, one touchdown performance. Clayton Moore proved to be workhorse for Calaveras with 19 carries for 78 yards and a touchdown.
While Ripon was only able to gain moderate traction on the ground, Daggett commanded the offense from the pocket, connecting on 10 of his 15 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns. He also had seven rushes for 55 yards.
Also scoring for Ripon was Hernandez on a 12-yard run, and Dorian Dougherty on a 26-yard pass from Daggett. Nathan Valdez was 3-for-3 on extra point attempts and added a 19-yard field goal.
“This win was all due to the defense coming up big at the end and making a big play that gave us the drive we needed to pick up a couple of first downs and just run out the clock,” Daggett said. “It’s crucial to have a game like this heading into a battle next week against Hilmar, going into a game like that with a 4-0 record and knowing that we’ve been tested.
“We know that Hilmar beat Calaveras too, and that there are a lot of 4-0 teams in the (Trans-Valley League) right now, but this game showed us something about ourselves. It showed us that we can battle.”
Ripon 14 10 0 0 — 24
Calaveras 14 0 7 0 — 21
R — Nico Ilardi 11 pass from Ryan Daggett (Nathan Valdez kick), 9:44.
C — Logan Weatherby 70 pass from Zack Nordahl (John Arbuckle kick), 7:29.
R — Danny Hernandez 12 run (Valdez kick), 6:00.
C — Clayton Moore 12 run (Arbuckle kick), 0:29.
R — Valdez 19 field goal, 8:01.
R – Dorian Dougherty 26 pass from Daggett (Valdez kick), 0:13.
C — Arbuckle 50 run (Arbuckle kick), 2:03.