Thirteen penalties, a few key drops from receivers, a second-half goose egg for the offense …
Chris Johnson will have time to address those issues. For now, the Ripon head coach will enjoy this much-deserved win with the team.
The Indians — coming off a 3-7 season that included an embarrassing 54-7 setback to Sierra in the 2014 opener — got their revenge in a big way Friday at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium, toppling the Timberwolves 34-20 behind a balanced offensive effort and a stifling defense.
“We had absolutely nothing to lose,” Johnson said. “We’re playing a school that’s bigger than us, they’re better athletes than us and if they beat us they’re supposed to beat us.
“Our kids worked hard. They were very motivated by our season last year and we feel that we’re a better program than being 3-7. Yeah, we do have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder. It was a good win against a great program and we’re just happy to come away fairly healthy.”
The game ended on a more somber note for Sierra, which already had a few players leave prematurely with injuries. The latest was defensive lineman Tommy Swanson, who sustained an apparent arm injury with 46 seconds remaining. Both coaches agreed to let the clock run out.
Mark Paule Jr. was one of the few bright spots for the Timberwolves. The reigning Manteca Bulletin All-Area MVP had 29 carries for 158 yards and accounted for all of Sierra’s three touchdowns.
“Tonight was a real learning experience for us,” Sierra coach Jeff Harbison said. “Naturally, there are a lot of things we have to improve on both as players and as coaches. We all have to take a deeper look at how we did.”
Much of hit was because of what Ripon did. Jacob Duxbury paced the Indians’ impressive backfield triumvirate with 152 yards from scrimmage (109 rushing) and three touchdowns (two rushing) on 13 touches. Caleb McCuskeer added 87 yards and a touchdown, while junior Matthew Dedonatis rushed for 85 yards and a touchdown.
Ripon was in command early in the second quarter, 20-7, after Duxbury and Dedonatis respectively broke 60- and 57-yard touchdown runs for touchdowns.
“He’s a stud,” quarterback Nick Price said of Dedonatis. “We added a couple of new guys, but the maturity of everybody is way different from last year. It’s also the intensity we play with. We had it at times last year, but we put in the work in the offseason and it showed tonight.”
Price was effective to start, completing his first three passes before finishing 5 for 11 for 73 yards. He hit Duxbury in stride for a 19-yard score — Ripon’s last touchdown of the night — with 47 seconds left in the opening half. It was 34-13 by the break.
“I would have liked for us to be able to finish better, be able to close it out a little bit better,” Johnson said. “Hats off to Sierra, they kept fighting until the bitter end. They’re a bunch of good athletes and a very well-coached football team.”
Friday marked the varsity debut of Mark Vicente, who was plagued by drops and two interceptions — one by Andrew Wood at the Ripon 1-yard line in the third quarter, and the other resulted in a 22-yard pick six from Angelo Baciocco. Vicente was 15 of 31 for 120 yards and was sacked six times. Ripon standout linebacker Matthew Ysit had a hand in three sacks.
“We knew that their running back was going to be tough to stop, but we practiced our reads all week,” Ysit said. “We knew they were going to be a tough team to beat.”
They were easier to beat when Paule didn’t have the ball in his hands.
“We have got to depend on all 11 guys,” Harbison said. “We have six skill players out there and we expect all of them to do their part.”
“The first half we did not play well, we did not tackle well, we did not catch well,” he added. “Fortunately we came together in the second half defensively and held them scoreless, so that’s something to build on.”