Heading into big game, Ripon, Hilmar have nothing but nice things to say about each other

bvanderbeek@modbee.comOctober 23, 2013 

Stanislaus Football Weekly 10-16-13 Sports reporters Joe Cortez, Ron Agostini, and Brian VanderBeek talk about local high school football, unbeaten teams, helmet rules, game predictions and more.

MODESTO BEE

— For 48 minutes, the mutual admiration society that links the football programs at Hilmar and Ripon high schools will be suspended.

This season's Trans-Valley League Game of the Decade will pit the YellowJackets and Indians on Friday night, with both teams hoping to maintain perfect records and grab the inside track toward the league title.

"This is what high school football is all about," said Hilmar coach Frank Marques. "You have two great programs on the field, a winner comes out and we'll shake hands after the game."

The programs have been battling each other for many years, since both were members of the Southern League for decades through the early 1980s. Hilmar made the move first to the Trans-Valley League with Ripon following, and after another league jump Hilmar returned to the TVL from the Western Athletic Conference in 2010.

"I remember back in the 70s and 80s when we were in the Southern League together," Marques said. "Those were always great games and it's always been a great rivalry in all the sports. What's better is that I can't ever remember any bad blood between the schools and you won't find a higher-class guy than (Ripon coach) Chris Johnson."

If either side is looking for bulletin board material from this story, that might have been a clue to stop reading.

"It's a good rivalry," Johnson said. "Hilmar is so well-coached and has so much tradition, and they do it with class. You always respect that, and we've tried to get to that level for so many years.

"What we always get from this game is that both teams play hard all the way to the whistles, but they keep it between the lines and then go their separate ways. At the end of the day you're always going to respect somebody who is tough."

Yes, there's a lot of respect between these two programs, but that's not all they share. These teams are very much alike.

Both are 7-0 overall and 3-0 in the TVL, averaging about 40 points per game while allowing about a single touchdown.

Both teams have excellent offensive balance with young quarterbacks. Ripon sophomore Nick Price is completing 54 percent of his passes, with eight touchdowns against only one interception, while Hilmar junior Jonathan O'Brien completes 67 percent of his passes, with 15 scores against only two picks.

They both feature multi-headed rushing attacks, with the YellowJackets averaging 5.3 yards per rush and the Indians an unfathomable 9.1 yards per carry.

But what really brings these teams together are their defenses, featuring lines adept at crashing backfields, speedy linebackers who can run sideline to sideline, and steady defensive backs who keep everything in front.

"You pull up the stats and you look at the films," Johnson said. "We've scored the same amount and given up the same. They might throw a little more than us. The only common opponent we have is Modesto Christian and it was a common outcome.

"It looks like Hilmar has 40 about guys on defense. I see that defense on film and say 'Hey, that's us,' and it's funny how similar we are."

If there is a difference so far between the teams it's in their schedules. Ripon already has pinned losses on TVL contenders Escalon and Hughson, while Hilmar closes its regular season against those two schools. The Indians' opponents are 20-23 this season. The foes of the 'Jackets are 11-33.

It certainly wasn't Hilmar's intent to play what in retrospect has been a softer schedule than Ripon. Opponents are booked at least two years ahead of time, and a non-league slate that included historically tough programs like Chowchilla and Dos Palos looked at the time like a gauntlet.

"By far, Ripon will be the best team we've played when we finish our schedule," Marques said. "But we were looking at this schedule two years ago and were thinking that if we got out at 2-2 we would have had a good preseason. Turns out that those schools are having bad years. Our schedule hasn't been the beefiest, but we couldn't control that part of it."

With the Indians finishing the regular season against 1-6 Orestimba and 2-4 Riverbank, this game likely will determine whether Ripon finishes with a second straight perfect regular season. The same can't be said for Hilmar and its road ahead.

"This is it for them," Marques said. "Ripon will be waiting for a playoff game after this. They'll either be 9-1 or 10-0, so either way they'll be sitting pretty after Friday night."

The Indians also have a 21-game regular season win streak on the line, which is pretty far down Johnson's list of team incentives.

"They're good and we're good," Johnson said. "It's our kids against their kids. Frank will do a great job, his kids will be in the right spots and they'll play hard.

"This is what high school football is all about."

Wait, didn't Marques already say that?

Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek

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