ESCALON — It wasn’t just that the top-ranked Ripon Indians made mistakes Friday night when they traveled to battle Trans Valley League rival Escalon, No. 5 in this week's FrontRowPreps.com small-school poll.
It’s that the Cougars capitalized almost every time they had the chance.
Despite having an opportunity to mount a game-tying drive in the third quarter, a pair of fumbles on consecutive drives allowed Escalon to score 14 unanswered points en route to a shocking 38-7 homecoming win at Engel Field – Ripon’s first loss of the season and a result that sent shockwaves through the TVL.
“You never know when you’re going to get breaks like that, but you have to capitalize when you have the chance,” Escalon head coach Andrew Beam said. “We knew that they had playmakers and that they were fast and were to make big plays, and with their style we knew were going to have to wear them down.”
The Cougars (6-2, 2-2 TVL) struck early on a big play when Lucciano Dutra connected with Kaidence Trejo for a 58-yard touchdown strike that caught the Ripon defense off guard. And when Ripon (7-1, 3-1) failed to mount a successful offensive drive on the ensuing possession, the Cougars took advantage and ground out a 95-yard touchdown drive that was capped off by a Jordan Gwartney 34-yard scamper to give Escalon a two-score lead.
But the Indians weren’t ready to just lay down.
Starting with the ball in the second half, Ripon came out firing on all cylinders – mounting a 10-play, 80-yard drive that culminated with a Derric Roy 2-yard burst into the end zone.
When Ripon’s defense showed up the following drive and forced a three-and-out, all of the momentum seemed to be swinging back into Ripon’s favor. Until tragedy struck. On Escalon’s second punt of the night, Danny Hernandez called for a fair catch but came up short on reaching for the ball – sending it bouncing off of his hand and directly into the waiting arms of the Cougar defense.
It took Escalon eight plays to drive 58 yards with Dutra connecting with Christensen on a 6-yard out to widen the lead to two scores once again, and take back the momentum that they would ride to victory.
“We made too many mistakes tonight on both sides of the ball,” Ripon head coach Chris Musseman said. “Two easy scores we gave up and then a muffed punt to give the field position – you can’t do that with a good team like that.
“We didn’t know how to handle that kind of adversity, and we’re going to have to work on that.”
Colton Panero led the Cougars in rushing with 120 yards and a pair of touchdowns on only six carries, and Christensen was right behind him with 113 yards on nine carries. Dutra finished the game 3-of-6 passing for 96 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“We knew we wanted to throw the ball and run right at them,” Beam said. “And you could see that some of the holes were opening up, and we were able to find our way through.
“We just had to keep doing it, and that’s what we did.”
This article was written by Manteca Bulletin reporter Jason Campbell. He can be reached at email@example.com.