RIPON – Ripon High played the part of the magic eraser Friday night.
Their 40-0 handling of Amador of Sutter Creek erased a 15-year playoff victory drought; erased the zero next to head coach Chris Johnson’s playoff win total; erased nine offensive drives by the Buffaloes thanks to a stingy defense that racked up six interceptions and three fumbles.
And while at times the Indians didn’t look as sharp as they could have – costly penalties killed drives and the offensive tempo was periodically sporadic – they erased the “good” typically associated with the program and penciled in a word synonymous for the next rung up the ladder.
“We talked all year about taking our program from good to great, and the first step in doing that is winning playoff football games,” Johnson said. “It’s just an outstanding feeling. It’s a big win for us tonight and it gets the monkey off of your back.
“The guys responded when they needed to tonight.”
Things didn’t start well for Ripon (11-0) who turned the ball over on the second play of the game to a heralded Amador defense that came into Friday’s D-IV Playoff matchup on a two-game skid – dropping heartbreakers to Summerville and Argonaut to close out its league schedule.
But the Ripon defensive secondary – who struggled against Riverbank and gave up more than 400 total yards against Orestimba – wasn’t about to get taken advantage of again.
On the Buffaloes’ second play from scrimmage, senior linebacker Tyler Swortfiguer stepped in front of Jacob Griffin’s pass and shifted the momentum clearly back into Ripon’s favor – giving the defense a swagger that they would exploit for the rest of the contest to terrorize the Amador passing game and stifle their every move.
Josh Clark snagged three interceptions by himself and nearly had another in the fourth quarter after Griffin had been shifted to wide receiver – something that wasn’t lost on the junior defensive back.
“I just felt great out there tonight – I’m at a loss for words right now,” Clark said after celebrating the victory with his teammates. “We had a tough time there at the end of the season and we had to get out of that mindset and pick it up. We worked at it and kept fighting and it feels awesome to be a part of a defense that plays like we did tonight.”
The balanced offensive attack of the Indians proved to be the crucial component to overcoming the size of Amador’s defensive ends that took away the outside run that served Ripon well for the majority of the season.
By being able to hand the ball off to Josh McCreath up the middle for a handful of yards every time Ripon was able to eat up the clock, give the defense a breather and steadily wear down the Buffaloes – not to mention open up the explosive passing attack that accounted for the team’s first two scores.
McCreath battled his way to 124 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 23 carries, and said that he enjoys being one of the leaks in the side of the offensive dam – just when a team thinks that they have the hole plugged another springs somewhere else.
“It’s important to be able grind for those yards because it allows (Kyle) Wengel to throw those passes over the top and our other guys to do their thing. They can’t stop all of us,” McCreath said. “When we get that offense going and that ball control we give the defense a chance to get a breather, and they played huge tonight.
“We were fired up tonight because a lot of us were here last year when we were disappointed with a loss to a 5-5 team in the first round. We’ve been playing with a chip on our shoulder all year, and it feels amazing to be here right now. But we’ve got to keep it going.”
Ripon will now host the Central Catholic Raiders – the 9-2 team that beat the likes of St. Mary’s of Stockton and Los Banos but fell to Placer of Auburn and Downey of Modesto – on Nov. 16. Game time is scheduled for 7 p.m.