Cody Rentfro spent much of the night plowing his way forward, but on the final play of Hilmar’s Trans Valley League championship game at Ripon he was dragged down for a 1-yard loss.
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior popped off the turf, pointed toward the scoreboard and slowly raised his index finger to the sky.
“Well, they were starting to get a little chippy, so I was just reminding them who was winning,” Rentfro said after gashing the Indians for 185 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries.
Yes, the Yellowjackets are No. 1 once again, and this time they have the throne all to themselves after outlasting Ripon 21-7 at Stouffer Field. These two squads shared the title last year, but Hilmar left little doubt on Friday.
“It feels great,” Rentfro said. “Ever since Day 1 this was one of our goals. We can check one off the list and move on a game at a time.”
It was an impressive effort all-around for the Yellowjackets despite missing standout quarterback Chase Kindberg, who is out for the season with a medial collateral tear in his right knee. Junior lefty Tristan Crowley filled in admirably, finishing 11 of 16 for 83 yards and an interception to go with 20 rushing yards.
Crowley had a hand in two of Hilmar’s touchdowns, first scoring on a 12-yard read-option run in the second quarter to push the Yellowjackets ahead 13-0 with 9:01 left in the second quarter. In the fourth, he gave his team some insurance with a 4-yard strike to Klay Farris (four receptions, 35 yards) on third down.
Although Crowley made his share of mistakes, including mishandled snaps that led to big losses, he came through when Hilmar needed a big play, particularly on third downs.
“Even with our quarterback out I told our kids all week I still thought if we come out and play our game that we’re the better football team,” Hilmar coach Frank Marques said. “Tristan’s a great athlete — he’s got a lot of tools.
“He can be real excitable and that’s OK. Those kinds of things are going to happen when you play that hard. He only knows one way and that’s full speed. I thought he did a great job. He really stepped up with a lot of pressure on him.”
Hilmar did more than enough on the offensive end, but it was a defensive battle throughout. The Yellowjackets won that part of the game decisively, holding Ripon (4-1, 6-4) to a single first down and 51 yards in the first half.
The Indians’ lone first down — a 24-yard scamper from Riley Machado — was followed Luis Candido’s 9-yard touchdown run on the next play late in the second period.
Ripon continued to gain traction on the attacking end in the third, but its best drive, which lasted 14 plays, was halted by a goal-line stand from Hilmar. The Indians had three shots to punch it in from inside the 10, and on fourth-and-goal from the 1 defensive lineman Xavier Burke stuffed Ripon’s Brendan Fugit at the line of scrimmage.
“They had a little boost of confidence and that finished it,” Rentfro said. “Nail in the coffin right there.”
Rentfro also plays strong safety, and he picked off a pass from Andrew Durrer with less than 2 minutes to go on Ripon’s final drive.
With the win and sole possession of the TVL crown, Hilmar moves up to Division V for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. The Yellowjackets played in Division VI last year, losing to Bradshaw Christian 28-18 in the finals.
The section will reveal brackets tonight.
“We’re excited," Marques said. "That’s where we want to be. We’re a D5 team and we belong in D5. To heck with enrollment, we want to play with the big boys.”