Tonight marks just the second time that Ripon Christian will square off with Golden Sierra, but the rematch takes place in a different setting with more at stake.
The fifth-seeded Knights are making the two-hour trek to El Dorado to meet No. 4 Golden Sierra in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI playoffs. It’s a matchup of 8-2 teams that vied for section titles last year. The Grizzlies came up short in the Division V finale 20-13 against Le Grand, while Ripon Christian fell to Ripon Christian in Division VI.
The two teams previously played back in 2004, Ripon Christian’s first with a varsity team, with Golden Sierra winning the nonleague affair 37-6 at Ripon High’s Stouffer Field.
The Knights were hoping to host Round 2.
“We certainly anticipated the 4 seed,” Ripon Christian coach Trey Ozenbaugh said. “We are now excited for the experience for our team to travel and represent our program well on the road.
“Not having our own on campus stadium yet we don’t mind the travel. We played some of our home games on the road this year. At different venues and we are 5-2 on the road this year.”
Ripon Christian enters the postseason riding a three-game winning streak and a third-place finish in the Southern League. Its signature win was a 26-0 shutout of co-champion Mariposa, the No. 3 seed in Division V, in Week 9.
Golden Sierra may have to fight through some ring rust but is also rested after what was essentially a Week 10 bye, as its final regular-season contest was forfeited by Encina Prep. The Grizzlies are battle-tested with losses to longtime small-school power Colfax and third-seeded Bradshaw Christian.
Running back Brenden Nutt (1,093 yards, 10.5 per carry, 14 TDs) and signal caller Nathan Anderson (940 yards, 11 TDs, 6 picks) spearhead Golden Sierra’s ground-based Cox box offense, though Ozenbaugh said the Grizzlies will mix in some spread on occasion. Christian Klahn (537 yards, 6 TDs) and Dominic Chamberlain (520 yards, 9 TDs) are others that linebackers Seth Silveira (68 tackles) Will Kamps (56 tackles, 16 sacks) and the rest of the Ripon Christian defense should keep an eye on.
The Grizzlies average 290 rushing yards per game.
“The Cox box can be challenging to defend,” Ozenbaugh said. “They have some undersized yet active offensive linemen. We have played the against this offense during games for Bradshaw Christian and Stone Ridge Christian in the past, so it is not something foreign to us.
“(Defensive coordinator) Eddie Erdalatz will have our boys ready to play. Our run defense has been a strength of ours this year and I like this match up. We need to tackle well and get three to four guys to the ball carrier each play.”
Ozenbaugh is also putting some of the onus on his offense — led by QB Billy Marr (1,508 yards, 13 TDs, 4 picks), RB Brian Sytsma (998 total yards, 10 TDs and a punishing line — to chew up clock and keep Golden Sierra’s attack off the field.
The first-year head coach said the Knights are as ready as they’re going to be for the postseason challenge.
“I feel our team is playing with great energy and confidence at this point in the season,” he said. “We have challenged them this week to travel well, play with passion and intensity and celebrate our on-field victories. Our seniors especially are not ready for their high school playing days to be over just yet.”