SALIDA — Danny Vos threw two interceptions in the first half, and on Ripon Christian’s impressive first drive (which started on its own 11 and ate up nearly 6:30 off the clock) in the third quarter he lost a fumble on the Elliot Christian 1-yard line while trying to reach for the end zone.
He made up for all of it with one big defensive play on the third play of the fourth quarter of Friday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI playoff opener.
The Eagles of Lodi, still within reach at 28-14, were on RC’s 23-yard line on fourth and long, but Vos ended the threat with an 84-yard interception touchdown return. The fourth-seeded Knights rode the momentum to a 42-22 victory at Modesto Christian’s Roy Blakely Field.
“That was a big relief,” Vos said of redeeming himself with the pick-six. Offensively, the quarterback completed 10 of 21 passes for 195 yards and three touchdowns. The senior QB also kept the Elliot Christian defense on its toes with his running ability, rushing for 52 yards on 15 attempts.
Ripon Christian (9-2) advances to the semifinals for a second straight year and will next take on top-seeded Foresthill (9-1) on the road. It’s a two-hour trip from Ripon to a tiny town in Placer County few from these parts are familiar with, but travelling long distances is nothing new for the team having to do so for Southern League games.
“We’ll see what it’s like to play in the snow,” RC co-head coach John Vander Schaaf said. “It’s foreign territory, but we don’t look at it like it’s intimidating, we look at it as exciting. It’s a great high school experience, and you gotta play outside of your county once in a while.”
Technically, the Knights played outside of their county Friday. With neighboring Ripon High hosting a first-round playoff game in Division IV, RC made Modesto Christian in Stanislaus County its home for the night.
It didn’t take long for the Knights to get comfortable. Vos hooked up with Brandon Dotinga and Clayton Blankers for 8- and 5-yard touchdown strikes in the first quarter, giving RC a 14-0 lead with 4:57 to go. Between the two scoring plays, the two teams combined for three interceptions in just four plays.
Fullback Roman Butler, a force on the defensive line, put Elliot Christian (7-4) on board with a 3-yard run with 1:44 left in the first quarter.
Even though they trailed 21-7 at halftime and were outgained 246-79 on offensive yardage, the Eagles never seemed to be fully out of it until late.
“Jason (Tacderan, Elliot’s first-year head coach) does a really good job with that team,” Vander Schaaf said. “They were ready to play. When we put up 14 right away they right came back. They deserve a lot of credit.”
So does Ripon Christian’s defensive backfield.
These two squads previously met in Week 1 with RC prevailing 28-13, but sophomore QB Holden Butler burned the Knights for 264 passing yards. On Friday, he did most of his damage on the ground (15 rushes, 65 yards) while struggling to hit his targets downfield. Holden’s first seven passes were incomplete, and he ended up 3 of 12 for 41 yards and three interceptions.
“Keegan (Rivera) and Brandon (Dotinga) did a good job with that,” Vos said of RC’s starting cornerbacks. “They made some nice plays tonight.”
Dotinga picked off a pass, and Rivera made a nice hit and deflected a pass on back-to-back plays in the fourth quarter. Inside linebacker David Henderson also had an interception.
Both defenses did well to limit the featured running backs of the game. Ripon Christian’s Andrew Brown rushed 19 times for 77 yards but was instrumental in the passing game (4 receptions, 69 yards).
For Elliot Christian, hard-running Ben Huckaby, grinded out 119yards and two scores on his 19 attempts. Most of his production, however, came on two big scampers, first a 59-yard touchdown jaunt in the third quarter, then a 35-yarder that helped set up his second rush into the end zone. The rest of his 17 carries went for 25 yards.
“We took a play or two off on defense when they ran those long runs,” Vander Schaaf said. “We’ll have to look at the game field to see what happened there, but part of the credit has to go to Huckaby.
“He’s a very good runner. I understand that this is small-school football, but he’s as good as a lot of large-school kids. He is tough to bring down.”