Two schools. A 21-1 combined record.
Both in the Sac-Joaquin Section semifinals.
How does Ripon, a town of just 15,677 according to the U.S. Census, produce enough athletes to have two successful teams a literal stone’s throw from one another?
“I think you just have a town here that supports their kids better than a lot of towns,” said Ripon coach Chris Musseman. “This community really gets behind its youth and that’s the big thing here.”
Both schools made the semifinals with ease.
Ripon is 10-1 and the No. 2 seed in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Div. V playoffs and will host Bear River on Friday while Ripon Christian is 11-0 and will travel to face Modesto Christian in Div. VI.
For some Ripon natives, being able to represent the city is truly meaningful.
“Being born and raised here, I am really proud to be in Ripon and glad to be at this school,” Ripon senior quarterback Ryan Daggett said.
Ripon Christian senior Michael Kamps said Ripon natives are different.
“I don’t know man, the kids are dedicated and they love football,” Kamps said. “They want to make themselves as good as they can be.”
SEPARATED BY A GATE
Ripon and Ripon Christian’s football fields are separated by a gate. You could throw a football from one field to the other.
If you have ever been to either stadium when both teams are at home, it’s a nifty experience to hear the fans cheering and the bands playing at the other site.
“(Ripon) used to have a cannon that they would shoot off,” Kamps said. “You would hear the cannon and then we have a big horn that we play when we score, it’s pretty cool.”
Daggett said both teams’ success has given fans opportunities to see great football.
“Its great for the whole town,” he said. “You have two teams that are really good and you can pick which football game to watch.”
SUCCESS BUILT IN THE OFFSEASON
For both Ripon and Ripon Christian, their 2017 seasons ended on a sour note that created an extra drive in the off-season.
The Monday following Ripon Christian’s 56-28 loss to Rio Vista in the 2017 Div. VII championship, the Knights were in the weight room and going over the playbook.
“Our improvement over last year is the bitter taste of defeat in the section title game,” Knights coach Trey Ozenbaugh said. “Our school has been to two section title games and not gotten a W as of yet.”
Ripon lost to Bear River in the Div. V semifinals; Daggett said the coaches “really pushed the team” in the off-season.
Daggett said the leaders of the team including himself stepped up and planned more player-run workouts in the summer and combined with a “better off-season program,” the Indians were stronger and more conditioned at the start of the year in 2018 than last year.
DOMINATION ALL YEAR
This is the year Ripon Christian expected.
“We are a very well-conditioned team and a very strong team,” Knights senior defensive lineman Drew Van Vliet said. “We always work hard. We go in expecting to win and we have confidence in our team.”
In his fifth year as head coach of the Knights, Ozenbaugh said this year’s team is his “biggest and most athletic upfront in the history of our program.”
Though Ripon Christian averages over 42 points per game, Ozenbaugh said the strength of the team has been the play of the defense, which leads the section with only 58 points allowed all season.
Kamps has 34 touchdowns this year while Van Vliet has 91 tackles, 29.5 tackles for a loss, and 11 sacks as the Knights cruised to a Southern League title.
“The way we are playing right now, just playing for the man next to you, we are happy to see success,” Kamps said.
PLAYING WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE
Ripon senior running back and linebacker Roland Davis said this season has proven a lot to doubters.
“Nobody thought we would be successful and go to the playoffs,” Davis said. “We are close to getting to the section title game and it’s exciting to watch us grow as a team.”
With Hilmar being the defending Div. VI champions and Modesto Christian starting the season strong, Ripon was a team nobody really talked about, especially after a disappointing 38-7 loss to Escalon on Oct. 12.
But the Indians responded with two wins to end the regular season, including a 25-22 defeat of Modesto Christian on Oct. 26 to clinch a share of the Trans Valley League title.
Davis said the team is “like a family” most of whom have played together since their youth football days with the Ripon Chiefs.
“One thing we have in common is heart,” Davis said. “We play for each other and we want to win and I think that’s a bigger thing than us being athletes. “
VERY SIMILAR BUT IN THEIR OWN WORLDS
You would think with a small town, players and coaches on both teams would close to each other.
However, both Musseman and Ozenbaugh said they haven’t spoken that much during this season unless they have common opponents.
“Trey and I know each other but we don’t know each other super well,” Musseman said. “We talk during the summer and do some 7 on 7 stuff together but during the season, we are in our own world.”
While a lot of the Indians played for the Chiefs growing up, most of the Ripon Christian players were on the Knights youth program and the two teams squared off multiple times.
Daggett and Kamps said they know players on each other’s team and are wishing them success.
“Its been awesome to see their success with our success with them playing across the street,” Kamps said. “We love to see the city of Ripon love football and that’s what they have been doing just because of the success and that’s been a cool thing to watch.”
Oh, what could have been...
Had Ripon not won a share of the TVL, the Indians would have been in Div. VI and could have played their neighbors.
“That would have been special for the community but that wasn’t in the cards this year,” Ozenbaugh said. “We want them to do well. There is not a rivalry per se.”
Having the city’s support has been a big factor for the success of both schools.
“It’s great because it’s that extra support and it really motivates us just that much more because we know we have people behind our back that we don’t want to disappoint and let down.”