For the second time in little more than a year, Ripon and Central Catholic high schools will meet in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 football playoffs.
Last year’s matchup – a 40-21 Raiders victory – was sort of a schizophrenic affair, as Central Catholic jumped out to a 17-0 lead – thanks to three Indians turnovers – only to find itself on the wrong end of a 21-17 halftime deficit.
In the second half, the Raiders got back to basics, rushed for nearly 250 yards and scored 23 unanswered points.
“We can’t make mistakes in this game,” said Ripon coach Chris Johnson, who has guided the Indians to back-to-back 11-win seasons. “We’ll need a few breaks and we need to execute.”
Never miss a local story.
Basically, the No. 4 Indians (11-1) need to play mistake-free football to have a shot against the top-seeded Raiders (11-1). And to carry out that gameplan, Ripon is relying on sophomore quarterback Nick Price.
“This is going to be fun,” said Price. “This is an opportunity for us to show how good we really are. This is what you dream about when you’re a little kid. Hopefully, we come out with a win.”
Central also will be led by a sophomore quarterback – Hunter Petlansky – though these underclassmen couldn’t be more different.
Petlansky, a transfer from St. Mary’s (Stockton) who had to sit out the first six weeks of this season, is a 6-foot-3, 220-pounder who bears a resemblance to a young Joe Montana. He took over for the injured Donovin Townsend in Week 10. Price, at 5-10, 170 pounds, resembles Montana only in the way he plays – 60 percent completion rate, 19 touchdown passes and only two interceptions.
“He’s gotten better every single week,” Johnson said of Price. “He’s learned with every snap. He doesn’t make the same mistake twice.”
Unlike Price, who had summer practices, scrimmages, and the preseason to get up to speed on the varsity level, Petlansky was thrown in during a game against unbeaten Patterson for the Western Athletic Conference title.
“I’m feeling good,” said Petlansky, who made his first start in a 75-0 win over Marysville on Nov. 15. “I feel a lot more comfortable than when I first came in against Patterson.”
Petlansky played with some of the Ripon players on a Ripon youth team, as did Ivan Swalve, a 6-3, 240-pound right guard who played junior football with Indians nose tackle Kody Day. These two likely will knock helmets on a few occasions Friday.
“We went to school together starting in the fourth grade,” said Swalve. “Then he went to Ripon High and I came to Central.
“Friendly competition is always fun.”
Day, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound man-child, may not exactly view Friday’s game as a friendly competition.
“They’re the returning state champs,” said Day, who’s registered a team-high 10 1/2 sacks this season, just ahead of Michael Morris (10) and Michael Ysit (9). “I hate ’em, but you have to respect what they’ve done.”
Respect seems to be a two-way street in this budding rivalry.
“They’re a good football team,” said Central Catholic coach Roger Canepa. “I’m impressed, but I was impressed last year, too.
“Hey, you win 11 games, you’re doing something right.”