RIPON — One year after producing thrilling down-to-wire finishes, the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V semifinal welcomes back its four combatants.
Top-seeded Colfax, a perennial section finalist, hosts No. 4 Sonora, the five-time defending Mother Lode League champion who has restored its promise with a seven-game winning streak. A year ago, the Falcons survived a wild shootout, edging the Wildcats 56-55 to reach the program’s 10th section final.
Across the bracket, Bear River batted down Ripon quarterback Ryan Daggett’s Hail Mary pass in the final moments, preserving a 14-7 victory in a game played on a soupy, mud-bogged field in Grass Valley. The Indians fumbled twice in that game, including an errant swing pass early that set up Bear River’s first touchdown.
“That was the game-changer,” Ripon coach Chris Musseman said. “It was early in the game, but it put them on the 15. They scored and went up. Other than that, it was even the whole game.”
Musseman expects another tug of war. Only this time, the semifinal will be played at Stouffer Field. The Indians seek their first section final appearance since 1996, when Ripon whipped Mariposa for the Division IV banner, 31-14.
In stark contrast, Bear River is no stranger to these high-stakes games. The Bruins have appeared in the D-V final in three of the last four years, celebrating championships in 2014 and 2017. Under the guidance of Terry Logue and Scott Savoie, the Bruins have winning seasons in 22 of the last 23 years.
The Indians have a keen sense of Friday’s significance, though none of the players were alive the last time Ripon played for a blue section banner. An explosive junior class is led by a pair of battle-tested seniors now in their third varsity season — running back Roland Davis, whose hands are as dangerous as his feet, and Daggett, a dual-threat quarterback.
“The kids are aware” of the section title drought, Musseman said. “As coaches, we’re aware how big this is. We’re doing everything we can.
“(Daggett and Davis are) pushing the envelope. Sometimes when you get this far into the postseason, you seeds that are ready for basketball and want to do other things. Those guys are the driving force right now,” he added. “They can taste it and they feel like they’re good enough to get there this year.”
Daggett and Davis have been a part of three playoff teams. Each year, the finish has gotten a little sweeter for the Indians, a two-time defending Trans-Valley League champion. In 2016, Ripon was dispatched by Capital Christian in the first round, 56-7.
“That was like playing a college team,” Musseman said.
Last fall, the seventh-seeded Indians upset No. 2 Calaveras in San Andreas, earning their trip to Grass Valley. Daggett and Davis found the end zone in Ripon’s 28-13 triumph over Calaveras. “Last year was a good experience,” Musseman said. “They learned how to play in the playoffs.”
Bear River provides the ultimate litmus test. Like many Wing-T teams, the Bruins are disciplined and well-coached, and feature multiple weapons. Tre Maronic leads the team in rushing with 1,093 yards and he’s complimented by Hunter Daniels, who has a team-high 14 rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Calder Kunde is the triggerman. He's thrown 16 touchdowns against one interception.
“They’re very disciplined and they got some good players. Again, this should be another evenly matched game,” Musseman said. “… They want to keep playing. They’re ready for playoff football, more so than any other team I’ve been around.”
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