Ripon Christian will find out right away where it stands in the Southern League tonight when it travels to Newman to take on favorite Orestimba.
Orestimba received three of six first-place votes in the Manteca Bulletin’s annual pre-league media poll, but Ripon Christian (one vote) and Gustine (two) are other legitimate contenders. Al three teams go into the SL schedule with perfect records. Delhi is also 3-0 but is predicted to place sixth behind the SL’s two traditional powerhouses, Mariposa and Le Grand — the defending co-champions. Ripon Christian could have been part of a three-way share of the title if not for an upset defeat at Gustine. The rematch is set for Oct. 16 at the new Ripon Christian Athletic Stadium.
“We will see how things shake out,” Ripon Christian coach Trey Ozenbaugh said. “ I believe we have the talent to compete for the league title if we stay healthy.”
Health will always be a concern for the Knights, who routinely have the smallest roster in the league. What there hasn’t been a shortage of, however, is talent, and they’ve been able to put that on display thus far. Ripon Christian owns lopsided wins over larger-school opponents Mountain House and Linden and came from behind to knock off emerging Stone Ridge Christian, 35-28.
The Knights haven’t skipped a beat offensively with first-year senior quarterback Travis Zuidervaart putting his array of skills to use. He has completed 65.1 percent of his passes for 489 yards and six touchdowns against two interceptions while rushing for 115 yards and two scores. Seth Silveira (317 yards, 7.4 per carry, TD) and Brandon Dotinga (219 yards, 8.8 per carry, four TDs) have been efficient out of the backfield, and Jonah Lewis has been on the receiving end on all six of Zuidervaart’s TD passes.
The defense continues to be led by Will Kamps (45 tackles, 4.0 sacks), the SL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
“(The preseason) confirmed we have some great athletes, we do not quit and have the fight we need for Southern League schedule,” Ozenbaugh said.
Orestimba may have the league’s best athlete in 6-foot-2 QB Joseph Sheldon, who almost has as many rushing yards (425) as he does passing (457). He has also thrown for six touchdowns and ran in seven others. Sheldon has an outstanding runningmate in Austin Martins (453 yards, five TDs), who is also Orestimba’s best defensive player with 31 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions.
“Certainly Joe Shelton and Austin Martins create some match-up issues,” Ozenbaugh said. “Both are talented runners, and Joe having the ability to throw the ball well puts some added pressure on our defense.”
Sheldon threw and scampered for more than 100 yards each in last year’s showdown, but Orestimba’s comeback bid fell short, 21-20.
Orestimba and Ripon Christian share a common opponent in Linden, which lost to the Warriors in a zero-week shootout, 58-37. Linden lost to Ripon Christian two weeks ago, 37-16.