HILMAR – Hilmar High inside linebacker Braiden Stubblefield is listed at 170 pounds but is closer to 155, probably after a big dinner.
His face-paint gives him that raccoon look around the eyes, but appearances can deceive. On the field, his heart makes him double his size, and he may embody the 2019 Yellowjackets.
“We might be small in stature, but we get after it,” said Stubblefield, a game-long force during Hilmar’s 47-28 victory over Ripon Christian in the Sac-Joaquin Section DVI semifinal Friday night.
“Last year’s team was great,” continued Stubblefield, the defense’s leading tackler this season., “but we execute and practice hard…I gotta play mean.”
Stubblefield’s early-game hits echoed at McSweeney Field, and Hilmar built a 27-0 lead before Ripon Christian – idle for the past three weeks – found a rhythm. Better still, the Hilmar defense further defined the game with interception returns for touchdowns by Joseph Davis-Olsson and Lucas Cardoso.
The result was an impressive win and a berth in next week’s section final against, of course, Trans Valley League rival Escalon. The Cougars, who shared the TVL crown with Hilmar and Ripon, handed the Yellowjackets their only loss 34-21 on Sept. 27.
“All things worked out,” Hilmar coach Frank Marques said. “We had to go through two tough teams (Bear River and RC) and Ripon Christian battled all night. We earned our way into this final. … I think it’s appropriate that it’s the two of us one more time.”
Hilmar (11-1), the two-time defending section and state champion, believes it has improved since the first Escalon meeting. Justin Barros, a junior slot who replaced the injured Trent Crowley, scored a touchdown and has joined Aidan Azevedo as a major target for quarterback Seth Miguel.
“He (Barros) is not our fastest player, but he is our quickest,” Marques said.
Then there’s sophomore call-up Andre Alves, who kicked four extra points, field goals of 29 and 41 yards and powered kickoffs for touchbacks. Hilmar is hard to beat most nights, but it’s bulletproof when the defense scores twice, the balanced offense purrs for 407 yards without a turnover and its special teams shine.
The game’s only turnovers became a Hilmar bonanza. Davis-Olsson stepped in front of a Nolan Lingley pass and sped 22 yards to increase Hilmar’s early lead to 13-0.
Later during the third quarter, Cardoso jumped a screen pass, picked it off and raced 68 yards past the cheering Hilmar bench to virtually clinch the victory 44-14.
Ripon Christian (10-2), winner of 22 games over the last two years, sought a better outcome than its 57-14 loss to Hilmar in the 2018 section final. But the Knights started sluggishly, which is what they feared after the layoff caused by a bye and the forfeit vs. Calaveras.
Coach Randy Fasani was reluctant to make an excuse.
“It took us a while to wake up,” he said. “That (Hilmar) is a great football team. Their program is top of the line. They’re hard to beat. That’s what we strive to be, right there.”
Hilmar, no doubt at ease at home, opened with drives of 75 and 73 yards for touchdowns. Cole Bailey pounded for two touchdowns and Steven Silva (15 carries, 87 yards) had one as the Yellowjackets carved holes through the middle of the RC defense.
The Yellowjackets found a more than willing adversary, however, in Ripon Christian's Sean McGovern, who ended a brilliant career with an exclamation point. He rushed for 133 yards on 16 attempts and three touchdowns, caught four passes for 62 yards and, as a safety, introduced himself to Hilmar ball carriers with ringing hits.
“They (Hilmar) came out with a lot of energy. They had a good offense,” McGovern said. “We didn’t play our best game today. … We came out pretty flat.”
Such things decide playoff games, and Ripon Christian fell to Hilmar in the postseason for the third time in the last five years. It left the Yellowjackets with an early Christmas gift – a rematch against Escalon and a shot at their third straight section title.
“We’ve been waiting for ‘em all year,” Stubblefield said. “We have that dog mentality. It’s going to be a fight.”
Sac-Joaquin Section DVI Semifinal
Ripon Christian 0-7-7-14– 28
H – Cole Bailey 6 run (Miguel Padilla kick)
H – Joseph Davis-Olsson 22 interception return (kick failed)
H – Justin Barros 12 run (Andre Alves kick)
H – Bailey 3 run (Alves kick)
RC – Sean McGovern 2 run (Caleb Terpsma kick)
H – FG Alves 29
RC – McGovern 47 run (Terpsma kick)
H – Steven Silva 1 run (Alves kick)
H –Lucas Cardoso 68 interception return (Alves kick)
RC – Nolan Lingley 17 pass from Jacob Van Groningen (Terpsma kick)
H – FG Alves 41
RC – McGovern 3 run (Terpsma kick)
Records – Ripon Christian 10-2, Hilmar 11-1