RIPON — It was probably a match-up that came a year too late for Ripon Christian, but head coach Trey Ozenbaugh doesn’t regret pitting this new group of Knights against the reigning CIF State Division VI-AA Bowl Game champion.
Led by the dazzling play of quarterback/defensive back Steven Brown, East Nicolaus rolled 46-7 Friday to improve to 3-0.
“We get better playing teams like this, I’m convinced,” Ozenbaugh said, adding that the Spartans remind him of the 2015 Knights with their punishing style of play. “We had some mistakes that were costly at times for us but we’ll grow from this.
“An opportunity play the state champs at home doesn’t come along very often, so we certainly jumped at the chance,” he later said. “We didn’t shy away from it.”
The visitors from Sutter County had chances early on to break it open but were thwarted by mishandled snaps, penalties and Ripon Christian’s bend-don’t-break defense. Three of the first four drives for East Nicolaus stalled out on the Knights’ end of the field.
Ripon Christian (1-2) couldn’t contain the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Brown and the rest of the multi-faceted pistol offense for long. Brown finished 13 of 20 for 253 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. He also had 13 rushes covering 80 yards, and defensively he was in on two of five turnovers with an interception and a fumble recovery.
Brown certainly gave Ripon Christian fits, but offensive lineman/linebacker Jake Beukelman was impressed by the Spartans as a whole.
“Everyone was solid,” Beukelman said. “There weren’t any weak spots on either side of the ball.
“It was fun, a good challenge.” It was nice to see how we can compare to them. We learned that we could hang with them but we definitely have some things that we can work on.”
Although Ripon Christian struggled to get on track offensively, the Knights were still in the game until the Spartans made two turnovers hurt toward the end of the first half and the start of the second.
About a minute after Wyatt McCollum’s 50-yard touchdown run extended the Spartans’ early lead to 13-0, Dominic Morse gave another possession and a short field with an interception. On the next play, Brown targeted a wide-open James Barker for a 33-yard score that made it 19-0.
Ripon Christian’s defense held East Nicolaus to a three-and-out on the opening series of the second half but gave the ball right back with a muffed punt. Brown later found McCollum open for a 20-yard touchdown.
“We came out a little flat,” East Nicolaus coach Travis Barker said. “We had a lot of guys feeling a little under the weather this week and with the heat wave coming through we had flat practices all week. It definitely showed when (the game) started. What I love about the boys is they get it together.”
By the time the Knights showed life it was too late.
Junior quarterback Mark Ozenbaugh’s first seven passes went for incompletions before he hit Zach Cortright for a 15-yard catch on third-and-10 with 7 minutes to go in the third quarter. Two plays later the duo hooked up again, this time with Cortright stiff-arming a defender to gain separation on a 43-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
East Nicolaus answered with touchdowns on three of its next four possessions, but Ozenbaugh was glad to see some fight from his players until the final whistle.
“Continuous effort is what I want to see out of our kids,” he said. “I don’t feel like they ever quit on us. We’re young, we know that, but we’ve grown up in these three preseason games for sure.”
Ripon Christian was limited to just 16 yards of offense in the first half and finished with 161. Sophomore running back Michael Kamps led the ground game with 58 yards on 17 carries and had to work hard for every inch.
It didn’t help not having 6-foot-6, 215-pound tight end/defensive end/outside linebacker Ty Beidleman available. One of just two returning starters, Beidleman served a one-game suspension after getting ejected in the Knights’ 14-13 Week 1 loss to Stone Ridge Christian.
“That definitely hurt our run game, there’s no doubt about that,” coach Ozenbaugh said. “When you have a guy that is as physically imposing as Ty, he’s definitely an impact player. We’ve had situations in the past where we’ve been down a good player and had opportunities to win.
“Do I think he would have been a difference maker tonight? He makes a big difference, but I don’t know that he’s the difference us being on the other side.”