The last time Ripon High reached the semifinal round of the Sac-Joaquin Section football playoffs was 1996.
Or to put that in perspective, here’s Indians’ running back Michael Ysit.
“That’s the year I was born _ in May,” the senior said.
Yes, it had been a long time since Ripon needed to schedule practices around Thanksgiving dinner, but on Friday it left no doubt it belongs among the elite of Division 4 with a convincing 58-21 victory over Calaveras.
Next up for the 11-1 Indians is a playoff rematch with Central Catholic. Ripon scored 21 straight points to lead the Raiders 21-17 at halftime of last year’s second round game before falling 40-21, making the Indians the only team to give Central any postseason resistance.
Calaveras, which marched undefeated through the Mother Lode League, finished 9-3.
“We came out flat last year against Central,” Ysit said. “But we know that we can compete against those kinds of teams. They’re a really good program but so are we, so it’s going to be a good game.”
There might not be a more confident bunch right now than the Indians, who have completely regrouped since dropping a 33-21 decision to unbeaten Hilmar on Oct. 18. Since then, Ripon beat up on Riverbank and Orestimba by a combined 128-7, then had a rare Week 10 bye to get ready for the postseason.
“The schedule really did set up nice,” said Ripon coach Chris Johnson. “We got lucky with that. That Hilmar game really re-motivated our team. It’s easy to get a little flat, a little soft, and since Hilmar our practices have been better, and our kids have refocused, as have our coaches. We did have a couple lower level teams after that, then the bye week, and it gave us a chance to heal up. It’s been good for us.”
The Indians’ offense certainly appeared well-oiled against Calaveras, rolling up 451 yards, including 342 in the first half. Ysit took care of the ground game, carrying 11 times for 200 yards and scores of 34, 16 and 70 yards, adding a 91-yard kickoff return for a fourth score.
Michael Morris also reached the end zone twice on the ground, and sophomore quarterback Nick Price flirted with perfection, completing 15 of 17 passes for 169 yards, with touchdown tosses to Bradley Clark covering 13 and 37 yards.
“We were getting a little sloppy in our practices, since we hadn’t lost a (regular season) game in almost two years,” said Ysit, who has gained 1,394 yards this season on only 84 carries for a gaudy 16.6 yards per touch.
“After that game we told ourselves we couldn’t be beat again, so we refocused and have gotten a lot better. It was good to get that Week 10 bye. We had run the gauntlet early, so it gave us a chance to get healthy and rested and ready to go.”
Ripon scored on seven of its first eight possessions to roll out to a 44-21 halftime lead, and it was that close only because the Redskins – other than Ysit’s touchdown return – convincingly won the battle of special teams.
Mike Seawell had 137 yards on two first-half kickoff returns, including a 90-yarder after Ripon second score that set up his own touchdown – a 6-yard burst that briefly pulled Calaveras within 14-7 midway through the first quarter.
Seawell scored all three of the Redskins’ touchdowns, but otherwise was held in check by the Indians. The senior entered the game with 1,322 rushing yards and 16 scores this season and had averaged 11 yards per carry, but Ripon held him to 26 yards on eight carries. Overall, the Indians outgained their guests 451-174.
“Offensively we did well tonight and defensively we’ve done well all year,” Johnson said. “Calaveras did some things to attack our scheme, and we had some holes tonight. But they’re good coaches and they have some great players over there, so they’re going to find the holes.
“We were playing some young kids on special teams and have a lot of things to focus on there. But since this is the first time Ripon’s been to the semifinals in a long time, we’re going to enjoy this one.”