Ripon and Ripon Christian are putting their undefeated records on the line this Friday against other undefeated teams.
It marks the start of what should be an exciting stretch in the Trans-Valley and Southern leagues, where title games will take place every Friday until the final week of October. Each league boasts five teams with winning records, and in the TVL four of them are 4-0.
“It’s going to be an unbelievably difficult season, and I think the sad part is probably at least two of these teams that are some of the better ones in the area won’t make the playoffs,” Ripon coach Chris Musseman said. “With the new (postseason) format it’s going to be tough. The TVL is loaded this year.”
The Indians (4-0), who were part of the TVL’s triumvirate of 2017 champions, start with a bang, as reigning Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI titlist Hilmar (4-0) visits Stouffer Field on Friday. Neighboring Ripon Christian plays host to Waterford in a battle of 3-0 teams, and Lathrop (0-3) begins its inaugural season in the Western Athletic Conference against visiting Ceres (0-3).
Both Ripon and Hilmar — Nos. 41 and 39, respectively in the MaxPreps SJS rankings — go into their marquee matchup tested by top Mother Lode League teams. Ripon needed a late interception to escape with a 24-21 win over Calaveras last week, while Hilmar surged in the fourth quarter to race away from Sonora, 39-20.
The Indians earlier waxed Sonora 34-0 on the road in Week 1, but Musseman said the score comparisons mean little when his team faces off with Hilmar.
“(Sonora) has good players and good coaches up there and they’ll get going in the right direction,” Musseman said. “We hit Sonora at the right time and had a lot of motivation going into that game. The kids were ready for that one, but I don’t know if they were ready to play going into Calaveras.
“Calaveras is better than people think. They executed very well against us. I think we needed a team to come out and play good, physical football with us because we hadn’t seen it yet. It took us three quarters to figure out the intensity we needed to bring in that game.”
Ripon truly made it look easy in its first three contests, nearly coming up with three straight shutouts before Central Valley scored a touchdown in the waning moments of a Week 2 blowout.
Hilmar had a similar run, pasting Delhi, Los Banos and Gustine in succession before Sonora gave the Yellowjackets a challenge. They return much of their talent from the section championship team, most notably running back Isaac Sharp (468 yards, nine TDs; 145 receiving yards, two TDs).
Both Ripon and Hilmar are bolstered by junior classes that went 9-1 at the JV level last year. Ripon beat Hilmar 28-21 for the outright crown.
“They have some dynamic athletes like Sharpe and a quarterback that runs the ball really well,” Musseman said. “They’ll present a lot of challenges for us. We are still very young, while they are very experienced.”
Escalon (4-0), Hughson (3-1) and Modesto Christian (4-0) are other teams that will have some say in the TVL, and those are Ripon’s final three opponents of the regular season in order.
Elsewhere in Week 4:
Waterford at Ripon Christian: The Knights ride into Southern League play having beaten their previous three opponents — Millennium, Stone Ridge Christian, Summerville — by an average of 40 points.
Perhaps they’ll meet their match Friday in Waterford, which is led by dangerous dual-threat quarterback Michael Vivo (329 yards passing, five TDs; 280 rushing yards, four TDs). Ripon Christian’s defense has surrendered just 21 points, while two QBs — Cade Alger and Nolan Lingley — orchestrate a balanced offense starring third-year running back Michael Kamps.
There is much talent in the Knights’ small roster, and if they aren’t tested Friday there are other challenges are ahead with Denair (3-0), three-time defending league champion Orestimba (2-1) and Gustine (2-1).
Ceres at Lathrop: The Spartans are smarting from losses to former Valley Oak League foes, but the good news is there are beatable teams in the WAC starting with winless Ceres.
Fellow WAC newcomer Beyer is also winless, while Grace Davis, Los Banos and Johansen check in with 1-2 records. Pacheco (2-1), Lathrop’s next opponent, and Mountain House (3-0) appear to be the early favorites.
Lathrop has had its struggles with blown assignments and mistakes on both sides of scrimmage, and Friday is a good opportunity to get on the right track. The Bulldogs have yet to score a point this season, getting shut out by Central Valley, Lodi and West.