Ripon and Sierra exchanged early touchdowns Friday night, and then special teams breakdowns doomed the host Timberwolves in a 19-7 loss at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium.
The Indians capitalized on two turnovers to pull away in the second half.
“Both teams made a lot of mistakes,” Ripon coach Chris Musseman said. “We fumbled it inside the 10 and they went in for the score and they messed up on their punt and punt return. It’s Week Zero, and you’re going to have errors and mistakes and the hardest things are the special teams and those little things.
“We played well. Our kids fought hard and we have a lot to work on.”
Sierra (0-1) struck first after Jordan Black pinned the Indians (1-0) inside their 1-yard line on a 38-yard punt. Two plays later, Jacob Peterson recovered a Ripon fumble at the 5, setting up a 4-yard scoring run by Larenz Redd for a 7-0 lead with 6:25 left in the first quarter. Redd was forced to leave the game at that point due to injury and did not return.
The Indians responded with their only long scoring drive of the night, marching 79 yards in eight plays with Roland Davis capping the drive on an 8-yard scoring run to tie the game at 7-7 with 3:46 remaining in the half.
Neither team could get anything going in the second quarter, and the second half started that way with Ripon going three-and-out to start thanks to a big sack on third down by the Timberwolves’ Romeo Sesma.
Things turned sour for Sierra when muffing the ensuing punt. Dylan Sexton to cover it for the Indians at the Sierra 20. Three plays later, Michael Winters (nine carries, 48 yards) scampered 19 yards to bump the Ripon lead to 13-7.
The Indians forced the Timberwolves to go three-and-out in their first possession of the final period, and on fourth down Sierra mishandled the punt snap. James Gaalswyk to cover the ball in the end zone to cap the night’s scoring at 19-7 with 10:24 left in the game.
“That was unexpected,” Gaalswyk said. “I saw it go right between his legs and I fell on top of it — I just had to.”
Sexton lead all rushers with 88 yards on 14 carries.
“The line did great, especially in the first half,” Sexton said. “Defensively, it took us a minute to catch on but once we caught on we were good.”
Late in the game, Peterson took Sierra from the 50 to the 21 on six plays, accounting for all the yards either on the ground or through the air. He was forced to leave the game at that point after vomiting on the field, and when he came back in the Timberwolves were unable to convert a first down, giving the Indians the opportunity to kneel out the rest of the game after they moved the chains one more time.
“He has a lot of heart,” Sierra coach Chris Johnson said of Peterson. “He grew up a lot tonight. I think if you look over the course of this game he went from a football player to being a competent quarterback. We missed opportunities where we couldn’t finish but he’s going to get better and better as the year goes on.
“I was pleased with him and pleased with the way our defense played. We gave them a short field all night — they didn’t drive the ball on us much. I think what you saw is a very young football team and there are going to be some growing pains. We will take it as a learning experience, go back to practice on Monday and get ready for the next one.”
This marks Johnson’s first game for Sierra after a long career with Ripon and Musseman. When asked about playing against Johnson, Musseman said, “That’s such a hard question. I want him to win every game he plays except one.
“I hope he goes 9-1 this year and I am sure he feels the same way about us. To be honest, I don’t want to play him again and not because I don’t want to play against him but he is my friend and it’s just an awkward situation.”