Ripon is getting greedy after capturing its first Sac-Joaquin Section championship in 23 years.
The Indians (12-1) are playing their first-ever CIF State Northern California Regional Bowl Game this Friday against Northern Section heavyweight Sutter (12-1), and they’re just not happy to be here. The victor takes on the SoCal champion, Selma (11-2) or Highland (11-3) of Palmdale, in the Division IV-AA final on Dec. 14.
“We’re playing to win,” Ripon coach Chris Musseman said. “Winning the section title is great, and they earned every bit of it, but these kids are competitive and that’s the reason why we are here. We want to win it all.
“If you look at our league (Trans Valley League), MC (Modesto Christian), Hilmar and Escalon all have state titles and we would love to be part of that group.”
The only downside this week for the Indians is that they have to travel a bit to “host” this contest, which has been moved to the artificial turf of Downey High’s Chuck Hughes Stadium in Modesto.
“Not real excited about it, and it’s especially too bad for our seniors,” Musseman said. “Then again, there’s no real advantage to playing in a mud bowl.”
Musseman and his coaching staff are already familiar with what they’re up against this week having played Sutter four consecutive years from 2014-17. The Huskies claimed three of them. Ripon’s one win just so happen to come in 2015, when Sutter went on to play Sierra — another team the Indians beat that season — in the Division IV-A NorCal Bowl.
Sutter, led by 11th-year coach Ryan Reynolds, is no stranger to NorCal Bowls but is still winless in five appearances (2012-17) with losses to Marin Catholic, Campolindo, Sierra, Oakdale and Half Moon Bay. The Huskies defeated previously-unbeaten Paradise 20-7 last Saturday for the NS Division III title, their sixth in eight years. Their lone loss this season is to Santa Rosa parochial power Cardinal Newman, 21-7. They’ve won all 12 of their games since and have held their last 10 opponents to single digits.
Musseman considers his team to be the underdog, which is a position it’s comfortable with. The Indians upset then-undefeated Center 21-13 for the SJS Division V championship on Saturday.
Although Sutter and Ripon are similar in enrollment size, Musseman noted that his injury-plagued roster of 29 — he has had less than 20 at some points during the regular season before bringing in JV players —is half of what the Huskies list.
“They’re very well coached, they have great athletes and they have 60 dudes on their roster,” Musseman said. “They have one guy who goes both ways and we have nine. I don’t know how they ended up in this game when they were up a division playing Oakdale a few years ago, but hey, we’ll play whoever they put in front of us. Our kids like being the underdog.”
Quarterback Nico Ilardi looks to navigate Ripon’s modified Wing-T offense past Sutter’s daunting defense anchored by 5-foot-11, 200-pound middle linebacker Mario Ayotte, who amassed 26 tackles and forced three fumbles against Paradise. For the season he has 161 tackles and 8.5 sacks. Max Gipson, a 6-2, 215-pound defensive end, is one of the state’s top pass rushers with 17 sacks, according to MaxPreps.
Offensively, Sutter employs a more traditional Wing-T that is focused on the run. Speedy back Cory McIntyre (1,616 yards, 9.9 per carry, 18 TDs) carries much of the load and is complemented by Colton Dillabo (805 yards, 8 TDs) and wingback Daniel Cummings (653 yards, five TDs rushing; 325 yards, two TDs receiving).
Sutter’s stout offensive line is led by 6-2, 280-pound tackle Bryce Driver and 6-0, 270-pound guard Austin Ward.
Musseman said Sutter’s offense is comparable to Oakdale’s.
“They execute better than anyone we’ve faced and their tempo is something we’re not used to,” Musseman said. “Their No. 1 (McIntyre) I’ve heard is the fastest kid in the entire Northern Section, they have 300-pound tackles — they have dudes.”
Ripon’s defense has certainly been tested in recent weeks but patched things up last week after showing cracks in its thrilling 34-33 comeback win over Amador in the SJS semifinals. Center had one of the most dynamic dual-threat QBs in the section in Michael Wortham, who had his highlights but was limited by Ripon more than anyone else in the Cougars’ schedule.
“We’re at a point now where we look at the film and say, ‘Wow, that kid is good, but then again so was the kid last week and the kid week before and the week before that,’” Musseman said.
And there may be one more week beyond this one for the Indians.
“It’s every coach’s dream to have practice on Thanksgiving, but to push it into December is an amazing feeling. I couldn’t be more proud of this group.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Sutter (12-1) vs. Ripon (12-1)
WHAT: CIF State Division IV-AA NorCal Regional Bowl Game
WHEN: Friday, 7:30 p.m. kickoff
WHERE: Chuck Hughes Stadium, Downey HS, Modesto
ADMISSION: $12 general, $8 children/students (ASB card)/seniors. Advance tickets available online at https://gofan.co/app/school/CIF