SALIDA — Modesto Christian was rolling on offense, and the defense delivered some punishing hits, including two that knocked players out of the game, as the undefeated Crusaders dashed to 15 unanswered points at the outset.
Nothing was going right for visiting Ripon in the meantime.
The Indians, playing for a Trans-Valley League co-championship Friday at Roy Blakeley Field, went three-and-out on their first drive before Brandon Rainer sailed his long snap over punter Nico Ilardi.
Roland Davis dropped passes on back-to-back plays that would have extended Ripon’s next drive.
And after the Indians scored their first touchdown late in the opening quarter, Nathan Valdez bounced his point-after kick off the left upright.
All three made up for their early snafus with clutch plays in the end, and Ripon rallied for a dramatic 25-22 victory.
“We’re just a family all the way around and everybody believes in each other,” Rainer said. “Somebody had to step up at important times and somebody always did. Everybody just did their job.”
Ripon and Modesto Christian, both 5-1 in league and 9-1 overall, share the crown for a second straight season after they were part of a tri-championship last year with Escalon. The Indians are likely to have a top-two seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoffs, while MC remains in Division VI and is the expected No. 1 seed.
“I thought all year that we were the best team in the TVL and I’m glad that we’re at least tied at the top,” Ripon coach Chris Musseman said. “And we beat the team we are tied with. That feels pretty good.”
Valdez was ultimately the hero. He hit the game-winning 27-yard field goal with 28.6 seconds remaining after tying it up with a 32-yard boot on Ripon’s previous drive.
“I just had to believe in myself, and I am thankful for the team because they put me in that position,” Valdez said. “Honestly, I had confidence in the team, confidence in my snapper and my holder. Everything worked out.”
Even when things looked bleak at the start.
This game will be remembered more for its thrilling finish and Ripon’s tide-changing defensive stops.
Davis was instrumental on the tying drive, contributing a pair of fourth-down conversions. At midfield, he was stopped at the line of scrimmage but surged ahead of the pile with extra effort. He was rewarded on the fourth-and-2 play, narrowly getting the first-down mark.
Four plays later, on fourth-and-10, Ryan Daggett (11 of 15, 120 yards; rushing TD) hit Davis up the middle for a 26-yard gain. Davis was Ripon’s most productive offensive weapon with 25 yards on nine rushes and 61 yards on three receptions.
“They’re a tight-knit group and they don’t want to let their teammates down,” Musseman said. “Mistakes happen, but they just kept fighting for each other.”
Rainer more than made up for his miscues on special teams — he had another bad snap early in the fourth quarter. The 6-foot-1, 187-pound junior made big plays in all three phases.
With less than a minute left in the first half, he scored on a 4-yard run to close the Indians in, 15-13. And on the game’s final play, a lateral to 6-2, 280-pound tackle Landon Wright from Patrick Garcia following a short pass completion, Rainer forced a fumble and recovered it.
His biggest play, however, set up Valdez’s winning field goal.
After a timeout, Modesto Christian lined up in punt formation on fourth-and-1 from its own 41 but took a delay-of-game penalty. A false start drove them back even farther, and it only got worse for the Crusaders when punter Jose Hernandez had chase down an errant snap.
Hernandez kicked it while on the run, but Rainer was there to deflect it out of bounds at the 10. Ripon opted to go for the win on the next play.
“I was going for the block all the way,” Rainer said. “We were in our punt block formation and I was able to get it.
Hernandez led the Modesto Christian attack with 16 rushes, 102 yards and a touchdown. Garcia scored twice and finished with 44 yards and 11 scampers. The Crusaders, who totaled 234 yards, missed two opportunities to extend leads while in the red zone.
Modesto Christian, leading 15-6, was on the Ripon 1-yard line on second down but failed to punch it in. Outside linebacker Grant Wiebe dropped Isaac Schinmann (nine rushes, 46 yards) for an 8-yard loss on fourth down, and the Indians countered with a 14-play, 90-yard scoring drive.
Midway through the fourth, the Crusaders were faced with a third-and-6 on the Indians’ 16 when Danny Hernandez picked off a pass from Hayden Sauder (7 of 11, 48 yards) in the end zone and returned it 42 yards. Valdez tied it with his first field goal five minutes later.
Hernandez also recovered a fumble forced by Gregory Clark in the third, and Daggett connected with Ilardi for a 23-yard touchdown and a 19-15 Ripon lead on the next play.
“Our defense has been a rock for us all year,” Musseman said. “They came through for us in big moments of the game.
“Wiebe’s a heck of a football player. He made a play that we had to have. If they score right there the game is probably over.”
And when it was over, it was the Indians doing the celebrating.
“Freaking awesome,” Rainer said. “We set this goal for ourselves and to be able to achieve it is awesome.”
Ripon 6 7 6 6 — 25
Modesto Ch. 15 0 7 0 — 22
M—Jose Hernandez 4 run (Xavier Carlton pass from Hayden Sauser), 8:34.
M—Patrick Garcia 6 run (Mario Hernandez kick), 6:26.
R—Ryan Daggett 1 run (kick missed), 1:57.
R—Brandon Rainer 4 run (Nathan Valdez kick), 0:48.5.
R—Nico Ilardi 23 pass from Ryan Daggett (pass failed), 7:35.
M—Garcia 1 run (M. Hernandez kick), 3:11.
R—Valdez 32 field goal, 2:17.
R—Valdez 27 field goal, 0:28.6.