SACRAMENTO – Not every football season ends with a win, but every season concludes with memories that will last a lifetime.
The realization for 13 Ripon Christian seniors that they had just played their last down of high school football sank in with tears following their 36-14 loss to Woodville Christian in their Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII play-in game for a berth in the NorCal regional final Saturday in Hughes Stadium at Sacramento City College.
After midfield handshakes with the Cardinals the Knights underclassmen and coaches formed a line to give hugs and comfort to their senior teammates, a tradition coach Phil Grams feels is important.
“These guys are the best group I’ve ever had in the weight room and best group of young men led by those seniors,” said Gram following the game. “These guys sacrificed (for the team), and the young men came up and filled in the blanks for the seniors and backed them up big time.”
The Knights (12-2) fell behind 10-0 early to the Cardinals (13-0) before Ripon Christian’s offense had even set foot on the field sparked by a controversial safety called by officials on a muffed Knights punt return.
The ball deflected off the Ripon Christian returner’s fingertips inside the 5-yard line and rolled back into the end zone and was covered by the returner for what is usually called a touchback in high school football.
The officials huddled briefly to discuss the play and ruled it a safety forcing the Knights to free kick into a wind that gave Woodland Christian good field position on the Ripon Christian 47-yard line. One play later Cardinals sophomore Noah Hinkle broke loose for a 43-yard gain to the Knights 4-yard line and backup sophomore quarterback Isaiah Hunt punched it in from the two for a 10-0 lead less than three minutes into the contest.
“The (safety) call didn’t cost us the game, but it put us in a hole,” Grams said.
Tale of Two Halves
Ripon Christian led in nearly every statistic in the first half except the one that counted with the 10-8 deficit on the scoreboard as both teams tried to extend 12-game win streaks.
The Knights ran 32 plays for 151 total yards in the first half including 14- and 15-play drives that ate up a majority of the first and second-quarter clock, while the Cardinals ran 16 plays for 91 total yards despite losing their starting quarterback on the fourth play of the game.
Woodland Christian got going in the second half on big plays from Hinkle, who finished the game with 13 carries for 114 yards and two touchdowns (6 and 17 yards) to go with three receptions for 33 yards including a 25-yard touchdown catch.
Hunt added 17 carries for 84 yards with two touchdowns (2 and 4 yards) with 47 passing yards and the passing score to Hinkle in the win.
The Knights’ second drive of the game reached the Woodland Christian 8-yard line, but after red-hot sophomore quarterback Mason Tameling had gone 7-for-7 passing to start the game, his eighth toss on fourth down drifted just over senior teammate Brady Grondz in the end zone.
Instead of taking their first lead of the game, the Knights turned the ball over on downs.
The last touchdown of the year for Ripon Christian came on an electrifying 88-yard kickoff return by Grondz late in the fourth quarter to give teammates and a large contingent of Knights fans something to cheer about as Ripon Christian pulled to within 29-14. It was Grondz's team-leading 25th touchdown this season.
The Bigger They Are
No one on the field was more surprised at getting an interception early in the fourth quarter than Woodland Christian senior Noah Rico, an enormous 6-foot-7, 360-pound lineman who jumped up with his outstretched hands to block a Tameling pass, only to have the ball lodge right in his fingertips at the Knights 35-yard line.
The Cardinal giant, who suddenly realized he was supposed to run toward the end zone, spun around and like a locomotive building up a huge head of steam was cut down after 15 yards when Ripon Christian’s Grondz fearlessly came flying in with a huge ankle tackle to knock Rico to the ground on what might have been one of the hardest hits of the game.
Speaking of Interceptions
Ripon Christian sophomore Amos Cady stopped a Cardinals drive late in the second quarter when he jumped in front of a deep pass by Hunt near his own 40-yard line for his team-leading seventh interception of the season.
Cady also had a fumble recovery on defense this season for a total of eight takeaways by the defensive back alone.
If the Play Works
Literally standing head and shoulders above the players at 6-foot-9 is senior tight end Jace Beidleman, who capped Ripon Christian’s first offensive drive, a 14-play, 80-yard masterpiece, by reeling in a 19-yard pass from Tameling while cutting across the middle behind the defensive line and out-racing the Cardinals into the end zone to make the score 10-6.
So wide open was Beidleman that the Knights successfully ran the exact same play from the 3-yard line for the two-point conversion to pull to within 10-8 with 56 seconds left in the first quarter.
“Jace should have been the quarterback for our team this year,” Grams said, “but we felt we needed him out on the perimeter as a tight end and brought up a sophomore quarterback. (Beidleman) sacrificed for the team to play there (as a receiver).”
Get out the Sneakers
Beidleman and seven of his gridiron teammates are on the roster of the defending Sac-Joaquin Section Division V champion basketball team that made it all the way to the state semifinal before bowing out last season with a 26-8 record.
“I wouldn’t want to play (football) with anybody else,” said Beidleman, who caught four passes for 44 yards and the touchdown in the loss. “I got to play with my brother (Dax), who got moved up to varsity, but everyone on this team is my brother. I’ve been playing with a lot of these guys since I was little. It was a fun ride. It’s time to flip this around and play basketball and go win another section championship.”
Ripon Christian boys have won blue section championship banners three of the last six years.
This article originally appeared on The Record: Ripon Christian football drops Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII game