League championships are on the line tonight for Ripon and Ripon Christian.
Ripon is battling for a piece of the Trans-Valley League crown after sharing it the past two season. Invading Stouffer Field is its fiercest rival and most formidable foe in undefeated Escalon, which has lost five of the past seven years in a series it had long dominated.
In the meantime, Ripon Christian is getting ready for its longest road trip of the regular season as they Knights duel with Mariposa in a battle of 4-0 squads in the Southern League.
The home teams of both matchups are the decided underdogs.
Much of it has to do with injuries for Ripon (2-1 TVL, 6-1 overall). Head coach Chris Musseman said quarterback Nico Ilardi (knee) and linebacker Grant Wiebe (shoulder) have not played since the Indians’ 38-27 TVL-opening loss at Hilmar four weeks ago when they sustained their injuries.
Junior Aaron Wood has performed admirably in place of Ilardi as Ripon has shifted to a more traditional Wing-T offense. Regardless of who is available, Ripon is going to see arguably the best team Escalon (3-0, 7-0) has had since its state championship run in 2010.
“They’ve had some really good teams through the years,” said Musseman, who is in his 18th year with Ripon and fourth as head coach. “This one has a lot of the pieces you need to be that kind of team.”
From third-year playmaker Kaden Christensen (819 total yards, 13 TDs) to punishing 210-pound fullback Luke Anderson (579 rushing yards, eight TDs), Escalon’s Wing-T has been unstoppable. The Cougars can also air it out with quarterback Ty Harris (44 of 77, 819 yards, 11 TDs) and Kaidence Trejo (453 yards, five TDs).
Escalon has already beaten Hilmar 34-21, but its most eye-opening result of the season so far was their 49-20 dominance of Downey — a competitive upper-division school with an enrollment nearly three times their size.
“We have nothing to lose,” Musseman said. “This is the first time in a while that we’re going into an Escalon game that we are not expected to be in. People forget that we’re still 6-1. Last year, we were supposed to beat them pretty good and they got, so anything can happen.
“We know this is the biggest task we’ll have all year, but we’re not going to lay down and give it to them.”
Ripon Christian has been rolling since its 20-19 season-opening loss to Grace Davis, shutting out three of its four Southern League opponents so far — only reigning Division VII state champion Denair has scored against the Knights and was held to just seven.
Mariposa (4-0, 5-2) has their full attention. The Grizzlies have also built some momentum behind three straight shutout wins. They opened league with a notable 7-6 win over annual contender Orestimba, which RC pounded, 35-0. One of their two losses was to undefeated Yosemite of Oakhurst, 30-0.
“We have a lot of respect for Mariposa,” RC coach Randy Fasani said. “No matter how much talent they have, they always play hard and never give up. At the end of every game you’re going to feel the bumps and bruises and know that you just went up against an extremely physical football team.”
Mariposa has playmakers on both sides of scrimmage, including defensive back Kannon Gibson — he is among three players in the state tied for second most interceptions with seven, according to MaxPreps. The spread offense is directed by sophomore Wyatt Green, who is supported by seniors Johnathan Chapman, Logan Donati and JC Davis.
Ripon Christian’s 90-mile trek to the historic Gold Rush town would be a concern for most teams, but Fasani encourages his players to embrace the opportunity.”
“I tell the kids my favorite games when I played were away,” Fasani said. “I enjoyed the experience of the opposing team’s crowd, seeing new areas and different stadiums. We’re taking that approach going into Mariposa. It’s beautiful scenery and the stadium is amazing.”