STOCKTON – Ripon Christian High stood and applauded the first-time Sac-Joaquin Section champions, and then ...
The boys in blue turned their attention to a season that unraveled at the finish line.
Top-seeded Rio Vista captured a section title in its first appearance, pounding the No. 2 Knights 56-28 in the Division VII final on a cloud-covered Saturday afternoon at Lincoln High’s Spanos Stadium.
Ripon Christian turned the ball over four times, including three interceptions, and never could climb out of a 30-point hole in its bid for its first section championship.
One of the most decorated athletic programs in the section, the Knights are now 0-2 in football final appearances. They also lost in 2013 to Bradshaw Christian, another Sierra Delta League program.
"We weren’t able to move the ball consistently and we couldn’t stop them consistently," Ripon Christian coach Trey Ozenbaugh said. "So hats off to Rio. It’s a tremendous victory for them. We would have loved to get some stops early to give our defense an emotional lift. We feed off of our defense. It’s been the strength of our team this year. Yes, we’re disappointed but we’re not defeated."
Ryan Hurley and Dakota Mills scored three touchdowns apiece, quarterback Ethan Medders punctuated a 42-point first half with his second TD pass, and the defense bottled up running back Michael Kamps, forcing the Knights to the air.
Quarterback Mark Ozenbaugh responded with a career-high 272 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw three costly interceptions.
"We asked the kids not to make it any bigger than it already is, but these are high school kids,” coach Ozenbaugh said. "It’s easier said than done.”
The wait continues for Ripon Christian (7-5), which could not have scripted a worse start. Rio Vista (9-3) scored the first 30 points, forced three turnovers, and led 42-14 at the half.
Noah Arroyo started the rout with a 38-yard interception return on the game’s opening possession. Forced to throw on third-and-11, Arroyo jumped Ozenabugh’s pass and raced into the end zone untouched.
"The pick there early, Mark made the right read but he said he just short-armed the ball,” coach Ozenabugh said. "He saw the linebacker late, and it’s one he certainly wishes he had back. I thought he came back and responded well.”
On the ensuing kickoff, Kamps fumbled near the 30. The loose ball was picked up by Justin Donaldson. Two minutes later, Hurley, a dynamic two-way player, punched his way in from the 1 to make it 14-0.
Hurley extended the lead to 22-0 with a highlight-reel touchdown at the five-minute mark of the first quarter. Hurley reeled in a short screen from Medders, slipped three tackles and tight-roped the sideline en route to an 81-yard score.
Hurley finished with more than 160 yards of total offense, while Mills led all rushers with 173 yards.
Like Hurley, Mills also had two first-half touchdowns. He scored on a 73-yard reverse, and after an interception by Quinn McGill, cut back on and sped away from the defense for a 64-yard sweep.
McGill punctuated the first-half barrage with a 26-yard touchdown reception.
After its disastrous start, Ripon Christian showed some signs of life.
Kamps atoned for his turnover with a 10-yard scoring run, and Ozenbaugh found Dillon Zuidervaart streaking into the end zone with no time left. The pass play covered 42 yards.
Ozenbaugh also had a touchdown pass to Dom Darretta in the second half.
After falling behind 30-0, Ripon Christian outscored the Rams 28-26 the rest of the way.
Coach Ozenbaugh was proud of the fight his team showed after the half.
"We weren’t playing Ripon Christian football," he said. "We weren’t playing hard-nosed football. We were tackling people high. We weren’t blocking well up front.
"So our message was to go and play our brand of football. We had some mild success.”