ESCALON – Ripon High atoned for nearly two decades of frustration with a thrilling 34-28 Trans Valley League victory over the Escalon Cougars at Engel Field.
“This was two great teams going at it,” said Indians coach Chris Johnson. “We made big plays, they made big plays.
“Fortunately, we came up with the last big one.”
That last one came with 55.9 seconds remaining when receiver Bradley Clark hauled in a Kyle Wengel pass at about the Escalon 15. He not only jostled for the ball and broke loose to complete the 34-yard touchdown.
The Cougars, who rallied for three unanswered scores after trailing 28-7 early in the fourth, returned the ensuing kickoff to the Ripon 34. But the Indians defense stiffened from there, with Clark provided the blanket coverage on Escalon’s last-ditch try.
Ripon (1-0, 5-0) had a tough go early on as the Cougars’ first two offensive plays resulted in a first-quarter TD.
Jason Robbins opened with a 24-yard pickup and Nathan Chunn finished things off by rambling 52 yards for the score.
Chunn finished with four TDs while gaining 169 yards on 31 carries.
Ripon had trouble getting its offense untracked while coming out empty on two first-half opportunities. Included were Anthony Baciocco’s interception and a poor punt by the Cougars in their own territory.
The first half also featured the two teams forced to punt the ball away seven times, including five by Ripon.
In the second half, the Indians drove 56 yards before finally scoring on Clark’s 25-yard pass from Wengel, who overcame a sluggish first half. The play came on a fourth-and-long situation.
Cole Herrin’s PAT kick tied the game.
Ripon was in a third-and-long situation when Wengel connected Michael Ysit on an 80-yard bomb moments later.
The defender actually got a hand on the pass, but Ysit still managed to haul in the deflection.
Baciocco came up with his second interception, giving his team excellent field position. A few plays later, Josh McCreath found daylight, racing 17 yards for the score.
On its next possession, Ripon increased the lead, 28-7. Ysit outran the Escalon defense on the sweep while going 58 yards.
The Cougars bounced back in the final 10 minutes. They used a series of trap plays to slice through the Indian defense, with Chunn and Jason Robbins reeling off the yardage.
Chunn then powered his way on the 2-yard TD.
Escalon was back in business moments later, recovering the fumbled kick-off by Ripon. Chunn’s 1-yard scoring plunge coupled with Thomas Diniz’s PAT kick closed the gap, 28-21.
The momentum was on the side of the Cougars.
Chunn tied the game at 28-28 at the 4:00 mark. This time he reeled in a 5-yard toss from quarterback Phillip Kimble.
The Indians mustered up one last drive by using a combination of pass and run plays while chewing up the clock. Wengel found Dyllon Haines on 21-yard completion and Michael Morris had a big first-down run.
On third down, Wengel, who completed 5 of 10 passes in the second half for 173 yards – he was 6 of 20 during the first two quarters for 53 yards – lofted a pass to Clark, who found his way into the end zone for the go-ahead TD.
The last time Ripon beat Escalon was in the mid 1990s. “For us, this (win) put an end to nearly 20 years of frustration,” Johnson said,