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Yellowjackets sting Ripon
Impressive 8-minute drive seals it for Hilmar
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RIPON — Hilmar High’s grand return to the Trans Valley League wasn’t so grand.

Not to start with, anyway.

The defense jumped offsides on the game’s first play from scrimmage, and on the next one it let Ripon’s Louie Mejia squirt through the middle for an uncontested 85-yard touchdown run.

The mistakes continued to pile on for the injury-ravaged Yellowjackets, but thanks to a big stop in the red zone followed by an impressive 8-minute, 1-second drive in the fourth quarter they were able to gut out a hard-earned 21-14 victory at Stouffer Field.

“I tip my hat to Hilmar, they’re dinged up and they’re missing a lot of weapons and they put it together,” Ripon coach Chris Johnson said. “They came out here and just kicked our butts.”

Hilmar was without Andrew Olson — done for the year with a wrist injury — and backup QB/feature running back Isaac Diaz, who will miss at least the next two weeks with an ankle ailment.

None of that seemed to matter. Neither did the three turnovers (two in Ripon’s end zone) and 12 penalties for 102 yards. It wasn’t pretty, but Hilmar coach Frank Marques will take any win his Yellowjackets (1-0, 3-2 overall) can get in the always-tough TVL.

“We’ve had a lot of personnel changes because of all the injuries, so we’re just trying to battle through that,” he said. “The big thing tonight for us was just to get the win.

“We were trying to survive this one, because Ripon’s a very good team. The kids played tough and battled for all four quarters.”

Hilmar outgained Ripon 313-198 yards. Take away Mejia’s 85-yard touchdown run, and Ripon has 103. The Indians (0-1, 2-3) showed signs of life offensively in the second half after being held to just two first downs in the first two quarters. The opening half ended in heartbreaking fashion, as Alex Gustin (6-for-17, 52 yards, TD; 14 rushes, 39 yards) hooked up with Jake McCreath for a 50-yard catch-and-run score that was called back by a pass-interference infraction.

“We don’t play the first half of football games for whatever reason,” Johnson said. “We just don’t show up to play in the first half, and you saw a different team in the second half. I thought that if we could have started the game like we finished it we might have seen a different outcome, or at least a closer outcome.”

Ripon’s bend-don’t-break defense held tough during some crucial moments, but Hilmar more or less had its way with its powerful running game.

Zack Giuliano bulldozed his way to 103 yards and a touchdown scamper on 26 carries for the Yellowjackets, while Garrett Jericoff ran it 21 times for 93 yards and a score.

Third-string QB Jonathan O’Brien completed three of six passes for 54 yards, and his 8-yard strike to tight end Trent Goiburn with 3:38 left in the third was the deciding touchdown.

“We just have a darn tough time stopping the run,” Johnson said. “If you can’t stop the run in this league you’re not going to win very many games.”

The fourth quarter was an impressive one for Hilmar.

On the opening play of the fourth, Hilmar threatened to double its 21-14 lead on fourth down from the Ripon 2, but O’Brien fumbled as he tried to plunge his way into the end zone. Matt Boesch recovered it in the end zone to set up their final drive on the 20.

Gustin engineered Ripon’s best series in the contest, though Ryan Durrer helped keep it alive with an 11-yard pass to Jake McCreath on a fake punt.

The Indians got it as deep as the Hilmar 9, but Gustin’s errant pitch to Durrer on third-and-3 resulted in a fourth-and-long on the 16. Hilmar shut it down on the next play, when Giuliano chased Gustin out of the pocket and caught him from behind for a quarterback sack and the turnover on downs.

“It was amazing,” Giuliano said. “We just dug deep and pushed hard and made sure that the score on the scoreboard stays at 21 to 14.”

The drive of drives came next.

Hilmar hammered its way into Ripon territory, and on the 15th play — third-and-4 on the 14 — Giuliano iced it with a 4-yard jaunt. O’Brien kneeled it twice to end the game.

“The old-fashion, smash-mouth football worked out well for us tonight,” Marques said. “Four yards and a cloud of dust — Hilmar has made a tradition out of that for a lot of years.”