High School Football

Ripon returns two key players, ends top-ranked Escalon’s bid for undefeated season

When they both suffered injuries in a 38-27 September loss to Hilmar, Ripon seniors Nico Ilardi and Grant Wiebe made a plan to return for Friday’s big game against Escalon.

Both Ilardi, a quarterback who suffered a sprained MCL in his right knee, and Wiebe, a running back who injured his shoulder, were true to their word and guided the No. 5 Indians to a 42-21 upset of top-ranked Escalon in a Trans-Valley League matchup at Ripon High School.

“I have had this game in my mind since last year and I had to be out here,” Wiebe said.

Ilardi completed 15 of 21 passes for 167 yards and one passing touchdown and one rushing score while Wiebe had 15 carries for 64 yards and a TD. They helped Ripon overcome an early 14-0 deficit, and end the game by scoring the final 21 points.

Wiebe was cleared by doctors last week and the “plan” was for him to take plays off throughout the game. That lasted a quarter.

Wiebe talked to Indians coach Chris Musseman in the second quarter and said he wasn’t coming out the rest of the game.

“He’s one of the best defenders in our league,” Musseman said.

Musseman said after the game his team had a lot of heart and with only 25 varsity players, Ripon (3-1, 7-1) had several instances where a player got injured on Friday but would return a few plays later.

“We are a true team and we worked hard all week,” Musseman said.

Early on, it was all Cougars.

Escalon (3-1, 7-1) scored on the second play from scrimmage on an 82-yard touchdown run by senior running back Kaden Christensen and would add another touchdown on a 1-yard run by junior running back Luke Anderson to make it 14-0 with 2 minutes, 40 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

“We got beat up on the first two drives,” Musseman said. “We couldn’t figure out their speed and you can’t emulate it in practice.”

Ripon would score on its next drive on a 3-yard run by senior running back Danny Hernandez. After the teams exchanged punts, senior running back Brandon Rainer scored on a 34-yard jet sweep run to the right to tie the game at 14 with 1:30 left before halftime.

Escalon fumbled on its next drive and Ilardi scored on a 1-yard run with a second left in the second quarter.

Ripon dominated after a 64-yard touchdown run by Christensen to tie the game at 21 with 7:50 left in the third.

Ilardi threw a 22-yard touchdown fade to senior tight end Troy Brogan with a little under four minutes left in the third to give the Indians a 28-21 lead and the momentum, which they carried the rest of the game.

Wiebe had an 18-yard TD run early in the fourth and Hernandez had a 36-yard pick-six with 8:35 left as the Ripon student section chanted “This is our house” after the score.

“We have the heart of a champion,” said Ilardi, adding his knee was about “80-85 percent.” “We kept our foot on the pedal.”

The win creates a three-way tie for first in the TVL with Hilmar (3-1, 7-1), which received a forfeit win from Modesto Christian.

Next week, Ripon (3-1, 7-1) is at Hughson while Escalon visits Livingston. Hilmar hosts winless Riverbank.

“There was a lot of celebration,” Wiebe said. “We believe we are doing something special.”

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Julian A. Lopez has been covering local sports for The Modesto Bee since August 2018. He graduated from Arizona State in 2016 with a BA in Journalism.
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