GRASS VALLEY — Ripon High coach Chris Musseman predicted turnovers would play a key role in Friday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division V semifinal at Bear River.
As it turned out, the Bruins cashed in on a pair of fumbles — the first one being an incomplete pass ruled a lateral — in turn, handing the Indians a 14-7 season-ending loss.
“This was a great battle,” said Musseman, who was proud of the way his team fought back late in the fourth quarter despite being down, 14-0. “We never gave up. We got the ball back towards the end and had our chances.”
Ripon (8-4) — seeded No. 7 in the eight-team playoff format while the No. 6 Bruins (9-3) were coming off an upset win at Capital Christian — started out a bit sluggish, getting poor field position, losing a fumble, and playing in chilly temperatures and on slick field dampen by nearly five inches of rain from the day before.
Both teams, in fact, had to grind it out with their ground game.
Yet despite all that, the Indians came up with a turnover late in the first quarter when Michael Winters intercepted a pass from his own 12, returning the theft to midfield.
Ripon drove the ball from there to the Bruins 6, getting a 17-yard gain from Roland Davis. The drive stalled as Bear River dodged a bullet, taking over on downs.
The Bruins caught a break on the fumble recovery on the aforementioned lateral by Austin Baze at the Indians’ 12. Baze found the end zone on the ensuing play early in the second quarter.
Ripon’s Winters came up with his second turnover, recovering a fumble near midfield in the third quarter.
Later in the period, Bear River got ball back, coming up with a fumble at the Indians 26 and getting a boost from there seconds later on a pass interference penalty.
The Bruins then turned to their bruising lineman-turned-running back in Travis Carpenter, who carried the ball twice including his 1-yard touchdown.
Ripon kept it at a one-touchdown deficit on its next possession, with quarterback Ryan Daggett connecting with Dorian Dougherty on a 60-yard bomb.
The Indians got the ball back with two last-ditch chances. A defensive holding call on Bear River with no time left provided Ripon with that second chance.
But both tries fell incomplete, as the Bruins celebrated a chance to play for next week’s section title against Pioneer Valley League rival Colfax. The Falcons held off top-seeded Sonora 56-55 with a late stop on a two-point conversion try in the other semifinal. The title game will take place next Saturday, Nov. 25 at Cosumnes Oaks High in Elk Grove.
Offensively, Ripon outgained the Bruins from scrimmage, 195-163, thanks in part to Dougherty’s big play. Davis and Dylan Sexton, who carried the ball 10 times late in the game, led the Indians’ ground attack. Davis reeled off 40 yards on 12 carries while Sexton finished with 37 yards.
Baze had a game-high 63 yards on eight pops.