Andrew Brown is the owner of two single-season rushing records for Ripon Christian as a sophomore. And junior quarterback Danny Vos is an electric playmaker, both as a passer and a scrambler.
They are understandably the center of attention, but they choose to deflect that attention to the center, guards and tackles.
“Andrew and Danny have been getting the ink, but almost every article you see them in Andrew and Danny are both thanking us,” said 6-foot-5, 265-pound guard Jordan Goslinga. “We can’t ask for more than that.”
The Knights are enjoying their best season since the program’s inaugural campaign in 2004, and it is due in large part to their experienced linemen of whom Jon Vander Schaaf says are “far and away the best” he’s had in his five years as head coach.
Ripon Christian will face top-seeded Bradshaw Christian in Sacramento tonight in the semifinal round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-VI playoffs. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 o’clock. The winner will play for the title Saturday, Nov. 26 at the Grape Bowl in Lodi.
The once-beaten Pride (9-1) is a win away from making its fourth straight section finals appearance, capturing championships in 2008 and 09.
The No. 4 Knights (7-4) are coming off their first-ever postseason victory, 60-26 over Rite of Passage/Sierra Ridge, which broke a single-season record for wins.
Their starting offensive line from left tackle to right consists of Jacob Ruther (6-1, 180), Thomas Van Vliet (6-0, 215), Ben Smith (6-0, 165), Goslinga and Anton den Dulk (6-1, 230).
Smith, who looks more like a receiver with his slight frame, has been a pleasant surprise. Veteran James Holdren suffered ligament tears in a knee in a Week-4 matchup with Southern League champion Le Grand, and Smith has held down the center position since.
“He is always on the wrong side of a matchup,” offensive line coach Bill Kamps said of Smith. “He plays the position undersized, but he knows how to play it. And he does it very well.”
Holdren debated in the offseason if he should return to the team after spending three years with the program. He is glad he did, but he wishes he was still playing.
“It’s great to still be with the team and watch them succeed, but I’ve never wanted to play more in my life,” he said.
On defense, den Dulk and Goslinga man the left side of the line with Van Vliet and Clayton Blankers anchoring the right. Kyle Bodenschatz, a transfer from neighboring Ripon High, sees significant time on defense, and sophomore Eric Broker plays both ways as a reserve. Kevin Van Donselaar coaches the defensive linemen.
Ripon Christian’s balanced attack has put up staggering numbers of late, and during the team’s current six-game winning streak there was a four-game stretch in which the defense yielded no more than nine points.
It all starts at the line of scrimmage, and tonight the Knights will face their biggest test (literally their biggest) since trudging through an early-season gauntlet that included Ripon, Linden, Le Grand and Mariposa — four tradition-rich programs that qualified for the playoffs with physical running games and hard-hitting defenses.
Bradshaw Christian presents a different challenge. With standout Ian Fowler, a 5-10, 280-pound mauler, paving the way, the Pride boasts three rushers who have each piled up at least 650 yards and double-digit touchdowns.
“It’s their big boys against ours this week,” Goslinga said. “We have some size, but they have a lot of size. They have a couple of guys who are easily well over 250-260 (pounds).”
Fowler and Francisco Hernandez (6-4, 285) wreak havoc from both sides of scrimmage, and while captain Jake Lakeman (5-11, 190) is one of the smaller linemen of the bunch he is no less skilled. Zach Rangel (5-10, 240) and sophomore Kenton Fowler (5-9, 240) are others of note.
As if getting through that wall isn’t challenging enough for defenses, tackling Bradshaw’s three backs is another thing. Louis Correia (5-11, 210) leads the Wing-T attack with 1,226 yards and 14 scores. L.J. Upshire (5-11, 185) has grinded out 885 yards and 14 TDs, and Taylor Blackford (5-11, 185) is the game breaker. He averages 11 yards per carry and has totaled 669 to go with 11 touchdowns.
The prolific Pride score 45.3 points per game and allow just 18.3. Its only loss came in Week 1 against undefeated Colfax, 54-14, which is a contender in the loaded Division-IV bracket.
Ripon Christian averages 38.8 points against 21.9 allowed.
“I know nobody is going to pick us (to win) or anything, you don’t bet against Bradshaw Christian — they’re studs,” Holdren said. “But I think our team is the real deal. We’re RC’s best team this school has ever had.”