MODESTO — Little ol’ Ripon, welcome to the big time.
And the big time is coming to Ripon.
The Indians extended their historic season Friday after they stomped Northern Section kingpin Sutter 31-14 in the CIF State Division IV-AA Northern California Regional Bowl Game held at Downey High’s Chuck Hughes Stadium.
While Ripon (13-1) prevailed in its first-ever NorCal contest, the Huskies (12-2) fell to 0-6 at this level of postseason play.
“We came here to win, bottom line,” Ripon coach Chris Musseman said. “They were supposed to beat us. That’s a program steeped in tradition and section championships and all that stuff — we’re just little ol’ Ripon.
“They have 60 dudes and jumbrotrons on their sidelines to watch plays. We come out here with like 20-something guys, an iPad and someone taking pictures on their phone.”
Ripon will get to host again next Saturday, Dec. 14, and the plan is to hold it on its own campus. This week’s game was moved to Downey’s artificial turf with the recent rainfall expected to muddy up the natural grass at Stouffer Field.
The Indians will await Highland (12-3) of Palmdale, which went on the road to beat Selma (11-3) 42-29 in the SoCal Bowl Game.
“It means the world,” Ripon quarterback Nico Ilardi said. “Everyone in the town is behind us, and to be able to play at home is going to be awesome.”
Ripon dominated from start to finish, outgaining the Huskies 446-127 in offensive yards and running 76 plays to their meager 26. Sutter didn’t even get a chance to snap the ball on offense in the entire fourth quarter.
Cory McIntyre, the Huskies’ speedster in the Wing-T, was limited to 40 yards, while Colton Dillabo led them with 69 and scored their lone offensive touchdown. They each had just seven carries. Dillabo’s 22-yard touchdown trot tied it at 7-7 in the second quarter.
Sutter’s other touchdown was an 86-yard fumble return by linebacker Kyle Watson, closing it in 24-14 in with 9 seconds to go in the fourth quarter.
“At halftime we were telling our guys ‘Hey, we’ve been here, we just need a break,’” Sutter coach Ryan Reynolds said, referencing a 23-20 comeback win at Benicia. “We were fired up. (The fumble return) gave us some momentum, then they went back to ball control and they took it from us.”
The tone was set early, with the Indians defense forcing a three-and-out and Ilardi spearheading an impressive 16-play drive that ate up 8 minutes, 35 seconds off the clock. The drive was capped by a 1-yard run from Grant Wiebe (19 rushes, 67 yards).
“We showed them we’re here to play,” Ilardi said. “We’re not here to mess around.”
The series was highlighted by clutch throws by Ilardi, who completed a 17-yard pass to Mason Knight on third-and-16 and an 8-yarder to Brandon Rainer on fourth-and-6. He finished 15 of 19 for 206 yards and a touchdown. He also had a 1-yard run on the Indians’ opening drive of the second half, giving them a commanding 24-7 lead.
“They made some critical times at times where we had them pinned deep,” Reynolds said. “I can’t say enough about their quarterback — fantastic athlete. He did a great job of extending plays and finding the open guy. We had a tough time with him, and they even did a good job in the run game."
Ripon’s balanced production included 240 rushing yards. After a quiet first half, Danny Hernandez ended with 144 yards on 23 carries. His final scamper was good for a 4-yard touchdown that punctuated a 14-play drive that took up the first 8 minutes, 3 seconds of the fourth quarter.
The Indians weren’t done yet. Nathan Valdez took Sutter’s return team by surprise with an onside kick recovered by Knight. A 31-yard pass from Ilardi to Rainer on third down set them up in the red zone, and Rainer iced it with a 9-yard, first-down run to the Sutter 3. Ilardi kneeled it out from there.
“You can’t just stop one thing with us,” Musseman said. “A lot of teams look at us with our small kids and all that, they don’t account for the toughness.
“We can run it on anybody and we have throughout the year. Yes, we can throw with Nico Ilardi out there, Brandon Rainer, Dorian (Dougherty) and Troy (Brogan) — we’re a nightmare to defend.”
Musseman also gave a nod to his weapon on special teams — the ever-reliable Valdez booted a 33-yard field goal at the end of the second quarter for a 17-7 halftime cushion.
Rainer was one of six receivers Ilardi hit. He secured a team-high five catches for 105 yards, and he’s doing it with a balky shoulder that has hampered him all season. Rainer was on the receiving end of Ilardi’s 56-yard touchdown bomb in the second quarter.
“It’s bigger than me, it’s bigger than my pain,” he said. “We’re a team and this has been our goal since Day 1. We started back in June and it’s been our goal since. We’ll just keep pushing and keep fighting.”
Sutter 0 7 0 0 — 14
Ripon 7 10 7 7 — 31
R—Grant Wiebe 1 run (Nathan Valdez kick), 1:51.
S—Colton Dillabo 22 run (Cory McIntyre kick), 6:43.
R—Brandon Rainer 56 pass from Nico Ilardi (Valdez kick), 3:32.
R—Valdez 33 field goal, 0:00.
R—Ilardi 1 run (Valdez kick), 9:42.
S—Kyle Watson 86 fumble return (McIntyre kick), 0:09.
R—Danny Hernandez 4 run (Valdez kick), 3:53.