Ripon 0 0 7 0 — 7
Escalon 14 0 0 7 — 21
E — Matthew Baptista 90 run (Alfonzo Gonzalez kick), 9:42.
E — Tate Christensen 67 fumble return (Gonzalez kick), 7:22.
R — Adam Barrera 24 run (Ricky Ochoa kick), 3:14.
E — Logan Anderson 8 run (Gonzalez kick),11:52.
ESCALON — Burned by big plays in the first quarter, Ripon erased any hope of a comeback with turnovers on its final three drives in a 21-7 loss to Escalon in what was essentially the Trans-Valley League championship game on Friday.
With one game left, Escalon (5-0 TVL, 8-1 overall) has clinched at least a share and is on track to gain the No. 1 seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoffs. A loss for the Cougars would have likely knocked them down to the Division VI bracket because of their enrollment.
Ripon (4-1, 6-3) could still earn a piece of the league title with a win over Hughson next week coupled with a Livingston upset at Escalon. The bitter defeat to their longtime rival serves as a wake-up call for the Indians, who were riding a six-game winning streak.
“We can be beat by any team if we don’t execute,” Ripon running back/linebacker Caleb Johnston said. “When we play our game we are dominant, but when we allow another team to get success on our failures then we will lose.”
Ripon’s game is to run the ball, play stifling defense and limit momentum-changing mistakes, but the Indians struggled in those areas Friday when they dug themselves a 14-0 hole 4 ½ minutes into the game. Escalon held them to just 64 yards rushing overall and forced Ripon to throw more than usual, as Adam Barrera and Dylan DeGraff combined for 27 passes, 250 yards and three interceptions.
In addition, penalties were momentum killers for the Indians for much of the contest. They were flagged eight times for 85 yards.
“We can’t give up big plays,” Ripon coach Chris Musseman said. “We’re not built to come back from a big deficit, and to go down 14-0 in the first quarter is just too hard for us to recover from.”
Ripon got the start it wanted by completing a 25-yard pass play from Barrera to Bronson Burrow on the first play from scrimmage, but then Barrera was dropped for a 6-yard loss by Ryker Peters on the next sequence. Ripon was forced to punt, and Escalon immediately landed the first blow in the form of a 90-yard touchdown run from Matthew Baptista.
It only got worse for the Indians on their next drive. After Barrera hit Nolan Young (five receptions, 110 yards) for a 24-yard catch, he mishandled the snap and tipped the ball into the air for Escalon defensive lineman Tate Christensen to snag and return for a 67-yard touchdown.
“That was really bad first half — our worst game we’ve had all year,” Ripon running back/defensive end Ethan Day said. “We came out making errors right away and things just weren’t crisp at all. The timing was just off.”
Ripon did well to limit the damage from there and kept the deficit at 14-0 by halftime. Barrera sparked the team on defense when he intercepted a pass from Donovan Rozevink (4 of 10, 61 yards) near midfield and took it back to the Cougars’ 21. The Indians could not capitalize, however, turning it over on downs.
They turned it over on downs again late in the second quarter in what was one of their two best drives of the game, stalling out on the 32 after holding onto possession for 5 minutes, 18 seconds. That came after the defense came up with another big play, as Johnston forced a fumble recovered by lineman Colin Speed.
“They’ve been the rock for us all year,” Musseman said. “We are a win-with-defense team. We’re not real pretty on offense but we’re usually a little more effective. We just didn’t execute well.”
The defense made had a goal-line stand to start the second half, as Escalon faked a field goal that went for an incomplete pass from placekicker Alfonzo Gonzalez. His toss into the end zone was knocked away by Ripon’s Ryan Lefebvre.
The Indians’ quarterback combo gave the team a glimmer of hope later in the period. DeGraff (7 of 14, 180 yards) delivered a strike to Jack Manning on a slant pattern for a 67-yard catch-and-run. Two plays later with DeGraff still under center, he handed it off to Barrera for a 24-yard touchdown run.
Ripon’s defense delivered yet again, forcing a three-and-out for a second straight series. As they had for the rest of the game, however, the Indians could not build on the momentum.
Ripon ran the same play it did on the touchdown run, only this time Barrera went right instead of left and with the intent to throw. He tried to wedge it through double coverage downfield to Manning but was picked off by Baptista.
“We were in a little bit of a panic mode,” Musseman said. “We hadn’t moved the ball very well all night and we’ve got a little momentum, so let’s strike while it’s hot. It just didn’t happen.”
Escalon extended its lead on the first play of the fourth quarter, an 8-yard run from Logan Anderson. The Cougars finished with 237 rushing yards with Peters (seven carries, 104 yards) doing the most damage.
DeGraff and the Indians threatened to respond on their next possession, but he was intercepted by linebacker Jamin Miller at the 5-yard line. Caden Gonsalves later picked off Barrera in the final minute, and Escalon kneeled it down to secure the win.
“Things didn’t go our way, but we did it to ourselves and it’s my fault,” Musseman said. “I didn’t do a good enough job of preparing Adam to take the helm tonight in a game like this with this environment. To come out here and try and have your first game as the starting quarterback, this might have been a little bit much and we definitely saw the effects of it in our offense in the first half.”