There’s no such thing as a down year for Escalon, says Ripon head coach Chris Musseman.
“Their record doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “They’re still Escalon.”
Musseman’s Indians (4-3), who have won two straight to start the defense of their Trans-Valley League co-championship, are visiting their traditional rival Friday.
A longtime power in the TVL, the Cougars, currently 3-4 overall and 1-1 in league, dominated this rivalry for nearly 20 years before Ripon ended it with a thrilling 34-28 win in 2012. The Indians have won three of the last four against Escalon, but all of those wins were decided by less than seven points — including last year’s miracle finish highlighted by Jacob Duxbury’s one-handed catch in the end zone with no time left.
“We have to come out ready to play,” Musseman said. “It doesn’t matter what the records are, when these two schools get together it’s always a battle and an exciting game to be a part of.”
Like Ripon, Escalon played a grueling nonleague schedule and had a four-game losing streak snapped in last week’s 42-14 thumping of Mountain House. The Cougars kicked off TVL action with a 24-10 loss to Hilmar but played the other co-champion tough for a half.
They’ll be at full strength this Friday, as running back C.J. Gumbs (409 yards, five TDs; 226 receiving yards, two TDs) returns from an ankle injury that sidelined him for Escalon’s first two league contests. Tim Costa (779 yards, nine TDs) and Jake Lewis (369 yards, three TDs) are also featured in the Cougars’ Wing-T.
“It’s the classic Escalon combination: a bruising fullback (Costa) who pounds you between the tackles, and Gums, who can hurt on the edge,” Musseman said. “You can’t defend one part of their game, and I’ve seen them throw more than they have in the past.”
Ripon appears to have hit its stride just in time for the final stretch. The regular season ends with home games against Hughson and Hilmar, the latter of which could be for the TVL championship if the Indians continue to rack up wins.
The Indians have come a long way from the start of the season when they had just two returning starters on both sides of scrimmage. They were schooled in losses to more decorated programs — Sierra, Sonora and Sutter — but are better for it.
“It helped in the fact got to see some really good football teams that showed us how we need to play the game,” Musseman said. “We were a very inexperienced team and it took a while for these kids to learn how to play at this level.
“We’re still young and learning as we go, but I’m proud of the great work they’ve been putting in and it has started to show the past couple of weeks.”
Also on Friday are four Valley Oak League games with postseason implications. Here’s a closer look:
Valley Oak League
Kimball (0-4, 1-6) at
East Union (2-2, 5-2)
This may be the Lancers’ best chance at getting that coveted sixth win for a Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berth. Six days removed from a 42-6 loss to Oakdale, they’ll come across other major roadblocks in the coming weeks with Central Catholic and Manteca looming.
Kimball’s schedule has been unkind so far in the VOL. After three consecutive losses to the perennial contenders, the Jaguars couldn’t keep up with reigning CIF Division IV-A champion Sierra in a 57-22 defeat last week.
One thing Kimball has been able to do consistently is run the ball, and defending Oakdale’s ground-based Wing-T was an issue for East Union. Ryan Rivera, a 6-3, 220-pound workshorse for the Jags, has rushed for a league-leading 988 yards and nine touchdowns.
Manteca (3-1, 6-1) at
Lathrop (1-3, 2-5)
Lathrop took out five-plus weeks worth of frustration on its Battle of I-5 rival Weston Ranch last week, posting an impressive 32-6 win in the rain. Meanwhile, Manteca was outgunned by Central Catholic 32-14 in its first loss of the season.
Lathrop is a long shot to make the playoffs but has already played spoiler for one team that can still get in. There is still much for Manteca to play for — an automatic berth and high seed — and the Buffaloes have to work out the kinks Friday before welcoming Oakdale.
Central Catholic (4-0, 5-2) at Sierra (2-2, 5-2)
These two made CIF history in 2015, marking the first time multiple teams from the same league captured a state championship.
No one in the VOL has been able to slow down Central running back Jared Rice (971 yards, nine TDs) and wide out Daron Bland (397 yards, three TDs), and both had big games against Manteca’s vaunted defense. The Raiders took a hit when two-way standout Montell Bland, a force at fullback and linebacker, went down with an apparent knee injury last week.
It’s Sierra’s last game at Daniel Teicheira Stadium for the regular season. If the Timberwolves are unable to pull out the upset Friday they’ll have better chances to punch their postseason ticket at Lathrop and Weston Ranch the next two weeks.
Weston Ranch (0-4, 3-4) at Oakdale (4-0, 6-1)
The playoffs have unofficially begun for the Cougars, who now must win out to have a chance.
It would take a big-time effort for them to beat Oakdale at The Corral, where the Mustangs are virtually unstoppable. That was proven again in last week’s homecoming drubbing of East Union, which owns a 31-16 win over Weston Ranch.
Oakdale’s powerful Wing-T is back at full strength with the return of fullback Will Semone, and the defense has pitched three straight first-half shutouts.
Mariposa (1-3, 2-5) at Ripon Christian (1-3, 2-5)
It wasn’t too long ago when these programs were in the conversation for the league championship.
Ripon Christian’s postseason chances took a blow the past two weeks, including a heartbreaking 21-20 loss at Gustine after a late failed two-point conversion.
Mariposa, which suffered a 28-26 defeat to Gustine two weeks ago, is led by running back Josh Land (941 yards, eight TDs) and sophomore quarterback Colton Weidner (1,232 yards, eight TDs; 276 yards rushing, nine TDs).