Friday can't come soon enough for Ripon's football team.
The Indians (10-1) are in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V semifinals for a second straight year and have a chance to exact revenge against defending champion Bear River (10-1) at Stouffer Field. They get to host the third-seeded Bruins this time around after dropping a 14-7 mistake-filled heartbreaker in Grass Valley. Bear River also visited Stouffer Field in 2015, winning 20-7 in the playoff opener.
Revenge isn't the only thing the No. 2 Indians are gunning for — a final-round berth is the main objective. Their last title round appearance was in 1996, beating Mariposa 31-14 in Division IV, and they lost their previous four in 1976, 1982, 1983 and 1993.
Bear River, co-headed by Scott Savoie and Terry Logue, has reached three out of the last four Division V championships, winning two of them (2014, 2017). Logue led the Bruins to their first of three section titles in 1994, and they've had 22 winning seasons in the last 23 years.
“We want to get payback in a way and make up for last year, but most of all we just want to go further in the playoffs,” Ripon quarterback Ryan Daggett said. “It's definitely an advantage for us being at home. We've had a lot of home games this year and haven't lost any of them.”
Daggett and Co. have indeed done some of their best work at Stouffer Field, where they've pitched three shutouts and beaten fellow Trans-Valley League heavyweights Hilmar and Modesto Christian. The latest is an impressive 49-20 drubbing of Western Athletic Conference tri-champion Mountain House, but they had a shaky second half after leading 42-7 through two quarters.
“We started pulling our starters out here and there to keep them fresh for the upcoming game and they took advantage of that, so it got a little out of hand” Daggett said.
The Indians have since been rarin' to get after it once again — even in practice. Unhealthy air conditions stemming from the deadly Camp Fire in Butte County has limited practices for many teams in the SJS, which postponed second-round contests last week. It was the second bye in three weeks for the top-four seeded teams in Divisions I-VI.
“Our kids were ready last Friday, even with limited practices,” Ripon coach Chris Musseman said. “Keeping focused and engaged was a little tough last week but in the last couple days they've amped things up and are practicing hard.”
They are working to play with more precision than last year, when were stumped by turnovers and missed scoring opportunities in a defensive struggle. Poor weather conditions and a sloppy field didn't help, and rain is forecasted for the rematch.
Conventional wisdom favors run-oriented teams with strong defenses on wet grass, and both teams fit the description. This semifinal features Ripon's pistol Wing-T led by Daggett (1,127 yards, 13 TDs, two interceptions) — he's also the Indians' top rusher with 743 yards and 11 touchdowns — and Bear River's more traditional Wing-T.
Tre Maronic (6-foot-4, 185 pounds), Calder Kunde (6-1, 183) and Dylan Scott (6-2, 160) are among the Bruins' star athletes who do a little bit of everything. Maronic (1,093 yards, 9.4 per carry, 12 TDs) splits much of the carries with 5-11, 190-pound fullback Hunter Daniels (712 yards, 14 TDs) but is also one of three players who line up behind center.
Kunde (939 passing yards, 16 TDs) gets most of the reps at quarterback, and the rangy Scott (34 receptions, 742 yards, eight TDs) is the go-to target when they air it out.
Musseman said his coaching staff pinpointed some things on film that the defense was able to expose to help slow down Mountain House's prolific read-option spread two weeks ago, but they can't be as aggressive against Bear River.
“They have some really good players and are extremely well coached,” Musseman said. “They execute at a high level and don't make a lot of mistakes. They don't spread it out and throw as much as they did last year. Everything is more Wing-T, but they move a lot of players around.
“We're going to have to be on our toes on every play and make the right reads and right plays, or else they'll make you pay.”
Bear River's lone loss came against Pioneer Valley League rival Colfax, 41-14, on Oct.. 19. Undefeated Colfax is the No. 1 seed in the division and hosts Sonora (7-4), which Ripon trounced 34-0 in Week 1.
“It's a little bit different than last year when we were just really excited to get to this game,” Musseman said. His Indians were seeded seventh and upset No. 2 Calaveras before meeting up with Bear River in 2017.
“That was fairly uncharted territory for Ripon because we hadn't been in a semifinal game in a while. For us, it was a big deal. They got a taste of it and now they want more. We have three-year starters (RB/OLB Roland Davis and Daggett) who are really pushing that this is not going to be it for us. This is a pretty big game for our kids and they realize it.”