Gustine High School football coach Russell McWilliams likened his team to a pitcher that doesn’t have his best stuff.
“We just play football,” said McWilliams, whose team improved to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the Southern League with a scrappy 24-21 win over Ripon Christian on Friday. “Our best stuff wasn’t working, but I can’t ask for anything more from this team.”
The Redskins – they can retain the nickname for the remainder of the school year – were held to nine yards of total offense in the first half yet somehow managed a 7-6 lead at the intermission.
“I told Coach McWilliams after the game that I felt like we gave one away tonight,” said Knights head coach Trey Ozenbaugh, whose team fell to 5-2, 2-2. “I felt like we aided them in their victory … that’s the best way to put it. But I’m not taking anything away from them.”
Ozenbaugh’s right. Ripon Christian committed five facemask penalties, an unsportsmanlike conduct infraction, lost three fumbles, threw an interception and a dropped pass in the red zone that would’ve converted a third-and-long.
After failing to pick up the first down on that third-and-long, the Knights went for it on fourth down and failed to convert. That gave Gustine the ball at its 18 with 6:59 left in the contest.
Four minutes later, the Redskins capped an 82-yard drive with Brandon Labry’s one-yard plunge into the end zone to make it 24-14.
But Ripon Christian wasn’t through.
Knights quarterback Travis Zuidervaart connected with Jonah Lewis on a 61-yard TD pass – the two hooked up for the game’s first score, a 37-yarder in the first quarter – to make it 24-21, but RC’s onside kick was recovered by the Redskins.
After falling behind 6-0 on Lewis’ first TD, the Redskins tied it up on Labry’s two-yard run. Jesus Quezada’s point-after put Gustine ahead with two seconds to play in the opening stanza. Labry, one of three Stanislaus District runners with 1,000 yards entering Friday’s action, was held to 44 yards on the ground.
Ripon Christian moved into the lead on Derek Dotinga’s two-yard burst in the end zone. Seth Silveira made good on the two-point conversion to make the score 14-7.
The Redskins used a little razzle-dazzle to score, with flanker Trever Flores taking a pitch and hitting quarterback Sebastian Figueroa for a 65-yard TD strike.
“We call that play ‘Tarheel,’ ” McWilliams said. “I saw that one in last year’s North Carolina-Notre Dame game; I’m a huge Notre Dame fan.”
The Redskins took the lead for good on a 30-yard field goal by Quezada, who admitted to being nervous standing on the sideline.
Ripon Christian’s Will Kamps sacked Figueroa for a 12-yard loss that would’ve pushed Quezada’s attempt to 45 yards. But an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty negated the lost yardage, allowing Quezada a more comfortable attempt.
“Thirty’s nothing,” said the senior kicker. “My longest in a game is the 40-yarder I had against Orestimba (in 2014), and I made a 60-yarder in practice last year.”
Thirty yards or 45, McWilliams said he would’ve kicked either way.
“We would’ve tried it,” the fifth-year Gustine coach said. “The way the high school rules are, if the kick clears the goal line, it’s an automatic touchback.”
Gustine’s Joey Reyes intercepted Zuidervaart on RC’s next possession, but the Knights’ Zach Cortwright returned the favor two and half minutes later when he pilfered a Gustine pass on a fake-punt attempt.