By JONAMAR JACINTO
Ripon expected Sierra to be bigger and faster.
Ripon also expected to be more competitive.
“It was a culture shock for our kids,” Ripon head coach Chris Johnson said.
It wasn’t pretty, not for his Indians. The 54-7 loss was just the start of a 3-7 season campaign that forced a junior-dominated team to grow up fast playing a brutal nonleague schedule that included traditional powers such as Patterson, Sonora and Sutter. The junior class had just one loss in the lower levels, but the youngsters found out there was still some growing up to do to compete with the big boys.
One year later, they enter the 2015 opener with plenty to prove and a chip on their shoulder. The rematch with the reigning Valley Oak League co-champion Timberwolves is tonight at Sierra’s Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium.
“Sierra is a great program that had a great team last year,” Johnson said. “It was definitely an eye opener for us as a team and as a community. It showed us what we needed to do to get to that next level.
“It’s important for us to have a good start no matter who we play. What happened last year is a motivating factor, but not anymore than our other games against other teams. We don’t look at (Sierra) as a big rival, it’s only Week 1. Win or lose, we want to go out and play well. The way we view things, our (nonleague) schedule is preparing us for (Trans-Valley) league — that’s why teams like Sierra are on our schedule.”
Sierra’s Mark Paule Jr. gashed the Indians for 202 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, and is back as the top returning touchdown producer in the state. Joshua Fala — all 6-foot-6, 345 pounds of him — is the only returning starter on the offensive line.
While otherwise unproven on offense with rookie quarterback Mark Vicente calling the signals for Sierra’s prolific spread offense, the defense is experienced with hard-hitting playmakers that will look to slow third-year quarterback Nick Price and Ripon’s hybrid Pistol Wing-T.
The Indians also boast experience on the defensive side, where they had up to 10 juniors starting at one point.
“Sierra’s a bigger school that is going to out-athlete us,” Johnson said. “Their size and their speed are always a concern, and coach (Jeff) Harbison always does a great job over there. But honestly, we’re not worried about what they do, we’re worried about us. We don’t have much take on this team so we just want to make sure we can control what we can control
“Their 2,000-yard running back and 300-pound tackle are obviously a big concern, they’ve got some guys. It’s a matter of us not being intimidated, go at them and see where the chips fall.”
uGrace Davis visits East Union’s Dino Cunial Field for a rematch of last year’s defensive struggle won by the Spartans of Modesto, 16-6.
uManteca plays host to Buhach Colony of Atwater in their first meeting since 2005, when the Thunder was a VOL member. Buhach now competes in the competitive Central California Conference.
uLathrop’s heart-breaking 20-7 loss at West ended with the Wolf Pack sealing the win with a 96-yard touchdown interception in the final seconds. The Spartans seek revenge at Bennie Gatto Field.
uFirst-year varsity team Mountain House will be Ripon Christian’s first opponent at the Ripon Christian Athletic Stadium. The school will celebrate a soft opening tonight, with the dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony set for the Sept. 11 contest with Linden.