LODI — The longer Andrew Brown stood around answering questions, the more it hurt.
The Ripon Christian senior running back was absorbing the barbs from three directions. There was the pain of a 35-28 loss at the Grape Bowl to Bradshaw Christian, the pain that came with this being his final high school football game, and the pain shooting through his left knee.
The section’s all-time single-season rushing leader sprained his left medial collateral ligament in last week’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division 6 semifinal victory over Woodland Christian and was sporting a brace to face the Pride.
It didn’t stop him from rushing for 155 yards, or from reaching the end zone four times, but as the knee began to tighten in the moments following the game, the more all the pain came cascading down.
“I’m happy with this season and I couldn’t be happier with my team and my coaches,” Brown said. “It’s hit me, but not quite hard yet, that this is the last high school football game I’ll play.
“If anyone told you three years ago that Ripon Christian was going to a section championship game and lose by one score to Bradshaw Christian, no one would have believed you.”
Yes, this was quite the heady trip for a program only 10 years old – not only reaching the school’s first section final, but mounting a rally from a 35-14 second-half deficit that had it in possession of the ball in the final five minutes with a chance to tie.
“It’s hard to swallow, but I’m very proud of my team,” said second-year head coach Randy Fasani, who earned a section ring as a Del Oro quarterback before playing at Stanford. “We could have laid down and let them continue to pound the ball but our guys continued fighting.”
Bradshaw Christian (10-2), which claimed its fourth football blue banner, rolled to 313 rushing yards and was on the verge of making it a blowout when it led 35-14 less than two minutes into the second half.
Ripon Christian (10-3) responded with a 64-yard, seven-play drive, with Brown accounting for all the yards via rushing and receiving. He would finish with 35 carries, with a season rushing total of 2,781 yards that will be the new standard in the Stanislaus District.
“He sprained his MCL against Woodland Christian and we didn’t want to make that public but the whole week he didn’t practice,” Fasani said. “I wanted to see him on the field before we decided if he was going to play in the first half. We limited his touches, and he fought through the pain.”
Spurred by the success of the offense, the Knights’ defense – which failed to stop Bradshaw Christian’s first five drives – would not allow another point. Part of the momentum shift came from the Pride sideline, where the coaching staff had launched into a constant beratement of the officials.
The Knights crawled within a score at the end of an 82-yard march aided by a double personal foul against the Pride, and when Brown scored from 11 yards out, the Knights were within a score with 7:01 remaining.
They would get one chance to tie the game, taking over at the BC 44 when Bradshaw Christian fumbled on the first play of its next possession – the game’s lone turnover – but went four-and-out to give the ball back with 4:36 left.
Ripon Christian would not see the ball again, but that doesn’t mean the excitement was over. The Pride, looking only to run-out the clock, called a timeout after its first running play. The purpose quickly became clear, as head coach Drew Rickert spent no time with his players, using the stoppage to walk out to midfield for the sole purpose of continuing his diatribe against the officials.
Two Pride players pushed their coach off the field as the officials absorbed the abuse. BC then gained three first downs to keep the ball away from the Knights.
“They shut down and we saw that,” Brown said. “Their coaches shut down. That’s an awesome staff with awesome players, but they hit some bumps and that gave us momentum. We almost came back there.”
For Brown, a section title game was a fitting stage for the end to a stellar three-year, 5,909-yard, 781-point varsity career.
But for the Knights – not only the players who brought them to this level, but for the returning players and those yet to don the jersey – Fasani saw a section title game as one more step for the program.
“From day one my goal, along with the rest of the coaching staff, was to win a Southern League championship and a section championship,” Fasani said. “We’re happy we made it to the section championship, but we’re not done. We’re going to continue to get better here.”