Ripon High quarterback Ryan Daggett stepped up in the pocket, back through the rush.
All the while, he kept his eyes down field, studying the defense as it changed shape in front of him.
Daggett counted the coverage: Three Escalon defenders boxed in Roland Davis, and then ...
He was open.
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The Cougars abandoned Davis, certain Daggett was going to tuck the ball and run. The junior flipped a pass to Davis, who completed the 48-yard touchdown, one of a handful of highlights in the Indians’ 32-14 victory over rival Escalon at Stouffer Field.
“We made a couple of mistakes early in the first half, but our kids played solid on both sides of the ball against a really good team and a great coach,” Ripon coach Chris Musseman said. “I couldn’t be more happy with where we’re at.
“Last week, we struggled. We came out flat and didn’t play well. Our kids did a great job tonight”
Davis scored two touchdowns, defensive tackle Cameron Gamino forced two turnovers, and Daggett continued to rise to the occasion for the Indians (5-3, 2-1).
“We wanted to prove that we are the best team in the TVL,” Daggett said.
That is yet to be determined. The Trans-Valley League remains a quandary.
The loss knocked Escalon (4-4, 2-1) out of a lead position in the TVL and put its playoff hopes in jeopardy. Modesto Christian (4-4) is all alone atop the standings at 3-0, one game ahead of Escalon and Ripon.
The Crusaders blasted Hilmar, 41-13, and will host Escalon next week. After Friday’s sloppy performance, the Cougars suddenly find themselves in desperation mode.
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves,” Escalon coach Mark Loureiro said. “We have to get back to work on Monday. We have to play a very explosive Modesto Christian team.”
With the clock winding down on Loureiro’s record-setting career, Escalon likely needs to win its final two regular-season games to become playoff eligible. The Cougars have missed the Sac-Joaquin Section postseason the last two years after 17 consecutive appearances under Loureiro, who announced his retirement over the summer.
Escalon was its own worst enemy against the Indians, who scored 14 points off of turnovers.
The Cougars had no answer for Daggett or Gamino, who had a sack, fumble recovery and blocked a field goal. Davis scooped up the blocked kick and raced 76 yards to make it 20-7 early in the second quarter.
Escalon climbed to within 20-14 on a 29-yard run by Elliott Mello, but missed a 26-yard field goal as the first half expired.
It was that kind of night for The Bee’s fourth-ranked small-school team.
Escalon mishandled nine snaps, turned the ball over three times and struggled mightily in the red zone.
“It’s really simple. When you turn the ball over, you lose,” Loureiro said. “We wasted nine plays. We get inside the red zone – inside the red zone twice – and we get no points. You don’t beat anybody doing that.
“They’re a good ball club. We were our own worst enemies tonight.”
Ripon can empathize.
Inconsistent the last two weeks, the Indians delighted a standing-room only crowd with a complete effort in their final home game.
Michael Winters scored on the first play from scrimmage, bursting through a hole for a 60-yard touchdown.
After Gamino’s fumble recovery, Riley Machado capped a nine-play drive with a 6-yard scoring run to make it 26-14 with 7:35 left in the third quarter.
Daggett closed the scoring with a 1-yard dive early in the fourth quarter.
One week after throwing two fourth-quarter, fourth-down touchdown passes against Modesto Christian, Daggett dazzled with his foot work and speed.
“He’s still a young guy, but he’s come a long way,” Musseman said. “He’s making big plays in important situations. Last week, he made a lot of clutch fourth-down throws that bailed us out. He made some big throws tonight, too, but he made some really good decisions with his feet, which is something he hadn’t been doing.”
Daggett’s touchdown to Davis gave Ripon the lead for good.
He never worried about the rush or taking a big hit while he bought time.
In the biggest game of the season, Daggett just wanted to make a potential game-changing play.
“You don’t really think about it too much,” Daggett said. “You just try to avoid (the rush) and make a big play out of nothing.”
Daggett was 4 of 6 for 98 yards, including a 32-yard dart to Dorian Dougherty to set up his QB sneak touchdown.
“He’s got great feet ... we just haven’t used him much,” Musseman said. “Now that he’s comfortable, it’s something that we can go to more.”