Ripon Christian High School football coach Trey Ozenbaugh has a healthy respect for Orestimba leading man Aaron Souza and the program he’s built on the West Side.
The two even text each other.
Ozenbaugh also acknowledged the presence and noise created by the Purple Zoo, Orestimba’s rowdy student cheer section.
But in the same breath, he spoke confidently about the Knights’ ability to overcome the distractions of the road and the odds of an underdog.
The Southern League begins Friday with a clash of title contenders on the West Side. Ripon Christian visits Orestimba in a battle of rested unbeatens. The small-school No. 4 Warriors (3-0) were picked to win the league by its coaches, while the No. 8 Knights (3-0) were tabbed to finish third behind No. 9 Gustine.
Both teams will have had two weeks to prepare for the opener.
“Right at the beginning here in league, we have an opportunity to go against one of the better teams and really establish ourselves as a contender,” Ozenbaugh said. “Like most teams, our first goal is to win the league title. The best way to do that is to beat everyone in our league and not rely on somebody else.”
To beat Orestimba, Ripon Christian must slow down dual-threat quarterback Joe Sheldon, whom Souza calls “The Mad Hatter” for his ability to torment a defense.
Ozenbaugh and defensive coordinator Eddie Erdelatz haven’t devised a special game plan to contain Sheldon, who has 882 yards of total offense. He’s rushed for 425 yards and seven scores and completed 58.5 percent of his passes for 457 yards and six touchdowns.
Instead, Ripon Christian will lean on math and muscle – take better angles and hold on tight.
“We’ve got to tackle extremely well. We’ve got to hold on at first contact,” Ozenbaugh said. “We’ve been working the last two weeks on pursuit and taking good angles on runners like Joe and (running back Austin Martins).”
Sheldon won’t be the only mobile quarterback on the field. Ripon Christian has found success under first-year starter Travis Zuidervaart (489 yards, six touchdowns, 65.1 completion percentage), who engineered a come-from-behind 35-28 victory over Stone Ridge Christian on Sept. 4.
While the Knights want to control the clock with running backs Seth Silveira (43 carries, 317 yards, one touchdown) and Derek Dotinga (25 carries, 219 yards, four TDs), Ozenbaugh is comfortable with Zuidervaart’s ability to wing it.
Right at the beginning here in league, we have an opportunity to go against one of the better teams and really establish ourselves as a contender.
Ripon Christian coach Trey Ozenbaugh on his team’s matchup with Orestimba
“He’s worked extremely hard with this team. He’s a smart player and he knows the game well,” Ozenbaugh said. “We’ll allow him to be an athlete.”
Sierra (2-1) at Oakdale (3-0): The Valley Oak League starts with a bang as last season’s co-champions collide at The Corral. The Timberwolves have started to find their form under first-year quarterback Mark Vicente and offensive coordinator Ryan Teicheira, but even the most experienced of teams have been humbled by The Corral. The Mustangs are 66-6 in front of their home fans, including three straight victories to start this season. Oakdale hasn’t given up more than 15 points in a game, an impressive stat considering the defensive unit returned just two starters: linebackers Robby Bagley and Ben Solorio. Bagley helped set the tone in last week’s 61-7 victory over Menlo-Atherton with one of two blocked punts. Hunter Lacrosse returned both blocks for scores.
Bear River (3-0) at Escalon (3-1): As if hosting the defending Sac-Joaquin Section Division V champions wasn’t hard enough, the Cougars have to do it on tired legs. Escalon is playing its third game in a 12-day span, while the Bruins roll into Lloyd Engel Field on 11 days’ rest. The Cougars have passed every test since an opening-week loss at large-school No. 5 Patterson, including blowouts of Bret Harte (63-21) and Liberty Ranch (35-14). The game at Bret Harte was re-scheduled for Monday, Sept. 14, because of the Butte fire, complicating Escalon’s schedule. Coach Mark Loureiro has been pleased with his players’ mental focus even as their bodies beg for the bye week. The Cougars have rushed for 741 yards in the last two games, including 279 yards and three touchdowns by senior Hunter Calton last week.
Beyer (1-3) at Downey (3-1): Turnovers doomed the Knights in a home loss to Lincoln. Downey’s Brett Neves threw for 325 yards and extended his streak of games with at least three touchdowns to four, but his evening was offset by six interceptions. Coach Jeremy Plaa said his staff underestimated Lincoln’s defensive line, which stuffed the run and forced the Knights to be one-dimensional. Downey will try to re-establish its ground game behind junior Malcome Green, who had a season-low 20 yards on 11 carries in the loss. On paper, Beyer appears susceptible to the run. The Patriots have allowed nearly seven yards per rush and eight rushing touchdowns in the last two games, blowout losses to Tracy and Central Catholic.
Pacheco (1-3) at Central Valley (2-2): Two years after running back Ja’Quan Gardner (Humboldt State) captured the Stanislaus District’s attention, Central Valley has found another can’t-miss prospect. Moses Ghiorso had 431 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns in a 41-21 victory over Enochs at Gregori High. While Gardner burst into secondaries like a BB out of the barrel, Ghiorso is patient and shifty. And he could be in for another big night against Pacheco, which gave up nearly 500 yards on the ground in a 60-13 loss to Buhach Colony.