The Ripon Christian football team huddles around head coach Phil Grams and the school's first-ever Sac-Joaquin Section football banner following a 28-16 victory over Woodland Christian on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022, in the Division VII final. (Diego Hernandez)

'It's all clicking': Ripon Christian earns historic first football blue banner

Independent Contributor

Over 18 years, the Ripon Christian Knights have grown from a fledgling football program to regular playoff contenders, and now, to Section Champions! In the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section DVII title game, the Knights grounded the Woodland Christian Cardinals, beating them 28-16 to earn the coveted blue banner.

“The last three weeks the quote I’ve said to everybody is ‘we practice like pros.’” Phil Grams, Ripon Christian's head coach said. “We’re practicing at a high level, we’re performing at a high level, and it’s all three phases of the game…all together, it’s all clicking.”

And click it did. Ripon Christian was able to run down the clock in victory formation after gaining the lead and shutting Woodland Christian out in the second half, though the game was marred by several RC injuries. When the Knights took to the field after halftime, they were down by two. 

Ripon Christian fullback Grant Sonke reaches for the end zone during a 28-16 victory over Woodland Christian in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII final on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022. With a strong second half, the Knights won 28-16. (Diego Hernandez)

Four minutes in after a 16-yard run by Grant Sonke, Thys Van Der Hoek (described by Grams as “a big piece of us on defense”) went down with an injury to his left knee and had to be stretchered to the sideline. “We rallied behind them and came back fighting for them,” said Sonke.

On the very next play, Jace Beidleman caught a 25-yard pass from RC quarterback Trey Fasani for a touchdown. A successful two-point conversion carried by Sonke brought the score to RC 22, WC 16. Halfway through the fourth quarter, Fasani completed a 15-yard pass to Eli Terpsma for the final touchdown of the game.

Sonke was happy with how their season leading up to the title game had progressed. “We had a great season, [it was] slow to start,” he said. The Knights had two early season losses: Central Valley in Week 1, and Orestimba in Week 2. “But ever since, we haven’t looked back,” he continued.

RC started the game strong with Sonke leaping through the arms of a flock of Cardinals to smash the ball down into the endzone and score the game's first touchdown. The matchup between #1 Ripon Christian and #3 Woodland Christian was initially a neck-and-neck event with WC’s Billy Hinkle answering shortly after. Keeping it in the family, younger brother Noah Hinkle made good on the two-point conversion and brought WC into the lead 6-8.

Ripon Christian tight end Jake Beidleman jumps and secures a touchdown pass from quarterback Trey Fasani during a 28-16 victory over Woodland Christian in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII final on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022. (Diego Hernandez)

In the second quarter, Fasani launched a 43-yard pass to Brady Grondz for a touchdown. Fasani followed it up with a pass to Beidleman for an additional two points. With less than two minutes remaining in the half, Billy Hinkle nearly repeated the above play. He caught a 41-yard pass from Gabe Sanchez and Caden Pascoe got the two-point to pull WC ahead 14-16. 

Woodland Christian would not score again. In fact, after the Knights scored twice in a row, they would block a Woodland Christian touchdown with a stunning endzone interception by Brady Grondz.

Coach Grams was immensely proud of his team, their dedication, and their historic first Section title. “We’re playing for a bigger cause,” he said. “We said that we are playing for each other, playing for our school, playing for our families, and playing for those who came before us…and the kids came out big tonight.”

Samantha Schmidt is a freelance photographer and reporter with Her work has also been featured in the Turlock Journal and other Central Valley publications.