Will the real Ripon Christian football team please stand up?
The Knights answered the call and more Friday in Le Grand, pulling off a 35-21 upset while capturing a three-way share of the Southern League championship. Le Grand 6-1, 8-2 overall), the Sac-Joaquin Section’s two-time defending Division V champion, had a 25-game league winning streak snapped in the process.
It’s a result few saw coming after Ripon Christian (6-1, 8-2) was rolled 49-7 at Waterford, the third party in the title share, just two weeks ago — the same Waterford team that was shut out 22-0 by Le Grand.
The difference? Health. The Knights were missing several key starters on defense for the Waterford game, and quarterback/outside linebacker Danny Vos was still hampered by a knee injury. Every ailment hurts a small team like RC, which had suited up no more than 20 players all season until Friday’s contest.
“With all the adversity we had this year we are pretty proud of our kids,” said co-head coach Jon Vander Schaaf, who helped guide the team to its first league title in its ninth season. “They worked hard and this is what happens. The kids are learning that hard work pays. Tonight, we took the field with 22 healthy bodies — the most we’ve ever had — and they all played a big part in the win. This is definitely the best win we’ve had.”
Ripon Christian never trailed in the contest and had an answer for every big moment the Bulldogs mustered up. That RC won on the road against an elite small-school team despite a 3-1 turnover disadvantage makes it all the more impressive.
A goal-line stand in the first quarter sparked the Knights after they coughed up their first giveaway. Le Grand was inside RC’s 10-yard line with a first-and-goal, but RC held and turned it over on downs. Later, Vos (11 for 19, 96 yards) hit Casey Kamper for a 5-yard pass with 32 seconds left in the quarter.
Le Grand tied it up early in the second quarter when Mauricio Contreras (11 for 25, 123 yards) connected with Juan Gomez from 19 yards out for the first of his two TD tosses.
Just moments later, Andrew Brown, RC’s big-play machine, popped a 95-yard kickoff return on a reverse.
In another key moment, Brown had a 70-yard touchdown negated by a holding penalty in the second quarter. It was a 14-point swing in which RC could have led 28-7 instead of 21-14 at halftime.
The Knights didn’t flinch.
Brown’s 48-yard touchdown run with 2:54 remaining put it out of reach, and minutes later RC celebrated.
Brown finished with 119 yards and two touchdowns on 23 rushes. He also completed a 58-yard pass to Brandon Dotinga.
Le Grand standout Ryan Martinez had 21 carries for 101 yards and a score.
Linebackers David Henderson, Kevin Kramer and Vos were among RC’s defensive standouts along with cornerback Dotinga. Sophomore exchange student Jacob Lee even got in on the action, recording a sack for a big loss.
Ripon Christian will find out where it stands in the SJS playoffs today. The Knights qualified as a Division VI team last year, and they’d have a good chance to win a section title if that is where they are placed again.
But after Friday’s win, the team is confident it can hang with the more competitive teams in Division V.
“Le Grand had senior night and were looking to clinch another outright title, so they had a lot (of advantages) going for them tonight,” Vander Schaaf said. “But we’ve always believed in our kids. We feel that if we have everybody healthy can play with anybody in Division V or VI.”