The CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII-A title came down to a classic matchup between two league foes as Ripon Christian and Orestimba faced off for the second time this season.
The Knights won the first matchup during Southern Athletic League play in a dominant 42-12 performance on Sept. 22, but both sides expected a much tighter contest with a blue banner on the line.
The championship contest lived up to the hype. A halftime tie quickly turned into a Knights lead as Ripon Christian secured its second straight Sac-Joaquin Section championship, 35-14.
“We knew they were going to come out ready to go and they came out, firing on all cylinders, just like we thought,” said Ripon Christian coach Phil Grams.
With the win, the Knights advance to the Division VII Northern California Qualifier on Saturday, Nov. 25, at 11 a.m at Sacramento City College.
The teams traded a pair of touchdowns in a competitive and physical opening two quarters.
On the Knights’ opening drive, sophomore quarterback Mason Tameling found Luke Crivelo for a 36-yard touchdown to take a 7-0 lead. A pair of unanswered rushing touchdowns from Juan Esquivez gave the Warriors a 14-7 lead with just over 10 minutes left in the first half. A Knights rushing touchdown with just over a minute remaining in the half gave the team momentum, tying the matchup at 14.
Just as it has done all season, Ripon Christian found its legs defensively in the second half. The Knights forced fumbles on back-to-back Orestimba possessions to start the third quarter, converting both turnovers into points.
Tameling found Jace Beidleman for a 10-yard score to put the Knights ahead 21-14, and then Preston Zuidervaart scored from 15 yards out for his second rushing touchdown of the game to put Ripon Christian ahead 28-14.
The Knights capped a run of 28 unanswered points with a Grant Sonke rushing touchdown to seal the win at the end of the third quarter.
“It took us a while to adjust to what their adjustments were, and then we played very well,” Grams said. “It was our best week of practice and even though they scored on us a couple of times, maybe our best game.”
Tameling completed seven of 12 passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns and had one interception. Zuidervaart scored twice on the ground, Sonke added a rushing touchdown and led the team in rushing yards with 101 on 18 carries. Brady Grondz rushed for 77 yards on 18 carries. Crivello (2 catches, 29 yards, 1 TD) and Beidleman (2 catches, 26 yards, 1 TD) led the team in receiving.
For the first year, the section will have a game after the section championship, which will determine which Division VII team advances to the 2023 CIF Northern California Regional Championships.
Ripon Christian, the Division VII-A section champion, will play Woodland Christian, the Division VII-B title winner, in the D-VII NorCal Qualifier on Saturday, Nov. 25, at 11 a.m at Sacramento City College.
The game is a rematch of last season’s Division VII section championship game, which the Knights won 28-16.
Woodland Christian is one of the few undefeated teams in California. The Cardinals (12-0) are led by senior quarterback Gabe Sanchez, who tallied nine carries for nine yards in last year’s section title. He has thrown for 1,492 yards and 20 touchdowns and is the leading rusher (446 yards, 5 TDs).
This year’s game features two dominant defenses. The Knights have allowed an average of eight points a game while the Cardinals hold their opponents to about six points a game.
Last season’s win over Woodland Christian put the Knights in the NorCal playoffs. They lost to eventual state champion Hughson, 31-28.
“The section banner last week was a huge game for us. Our next goal on our list is to get back to NorCals,” Grams said. “This game gives us that opportunity.”