Ripon head coach Chris Johnson admitted it was probably a bad decision.
About midway through the third quarter of Friday night’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 semifinal, with Central Catholic clinging to a 10-point lead, the Indians attempted a fake punt.
The play lost yardage, the Raiders scored on the very next play and then pulled away to a 38-7 victory at David Patton Field.
“Probably, the fake punt was a bad call on my part,” said Johnson, whose Indians (11-2) were eliminated from the playoffs for a second consecutive season by Central Catholic. “Our defense was playing well at that point, making them earn their yards.”
Just a few minutes earlier, trailing 17-7, Jace McFetridge intercepted CC quarterback Hunter Petlansky on the Ripon 32, and the Indians found the spark that seemed destined to get them back into the contest.
But after a big gainer on the first play took them close to midfield, the drive stalled and the Indians were forced to punt.
The ensuing fake punt lost 4 yards and Central took over with its 10-point lead intact.
The Raiders called running back Matt Ringer’s number on first down – they called his number a lot; he carried the ball 32 times for 202 yards – and raced in from 43 yards out to make it 23-7. Kenny Smart’s PAT stretched the cushion to 17.
“That was it,” said Central Catholic head coach Roger Canepa, whose top-seeded Raiders (12-1) will play for their second consecutive D4 title next Saturday against No. 2 Hilmar (13-0) in a 1 p.m. game at Stockton’s Lincoln High. “We started running the ball at that point, and when we can run, we’re pretty hard to beat.”
But just as Johnson admitted to his error, Canepa made a confession of his own.
“I think we were lucky in the first half,” said Canepa, whose team faced earlier deficits against Ripon and Colfax on Nov. 22. “But we were able to catch a little spurt.”
Central Catholic, which punted on its first four possessions, got a lift from junior cornerback Nic Navarro, who twice intercepted sophomore quarterback Nick Price in the end zone.
The first came with the score knotted at 7, and Ripon threatening to take the lead.
With 5:44 to play in the first half, the Indians had marched from their 20 all the way to Central’s 10. Price was looking to hit Bradley Clark on a timing pattern, but Navarro outleaped Clark and came down with the ball. Central then embarked on an 80-yard drive that was kept going by Petlansky’s 29-yard scramble on third-and-5, and capped by Reggie Bland’s 3-yard TD plunge.
With 47 seconds left in the half, Central Catholic led 14-7.
But after the ensuing kickoff, a 15-yard taunting penalty on the Raiders gave Ripon the ball on CC’s 41 with 40 seconds to play. After a couple of runs by Michael Ysit (17 carries, 96 yards) – he wisely stepped out of bounds on each – and 17-yard screen pass to Ysit, the Indians were in the red zone with 8 seconds left.
“I watched a lot of game film and near the goal line they like to go to (Clark) on timing patterns and fades,” said Navarro. “So, I thought it might be coming. …
“I knew I had to make a stop if I got the opportunity.”
Navarro’s interception, a carbon copy of his first, preserved Central’s seven-point lead heading into the locker room.
At halftime, Central Catholic made some defensive adjustments.
“We got a lickin’ from the coaches,” said Ringer, who also plays linebacker. “We got our defensive checks right and came out ready to go.”
Had this game gone to the judges in the first half, Ripon might have been declared the winner.
“That’s a class team,” said Canepa. “They’re well-coached and their kids play hard.”
Despite the loss, Ripon’s nose tackle, Kody Day, was proud of the team’s effort.
“I’m proud of all of us,” said the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Day. “We never stopped fighting, and that’s all I could ask of my men in my senior year.”