There’s an old adage in football: defense wins championships.
Hilmar High is eager to see if those words ring true in today’s Division IV Sac-Joaquin Section championship game against Central Catholic High. The Yellowjackets enter their second section title game in the past three years with a perfect 13-0 record, a feat due in large part to a dominant defensive unit that has allowed an average of 9.8 points a game.
But while Hilmar’s defense has been its strength all season, they’ll face their biggest test yet in a Raiders squad that boasts one of the biggest offensive lines in the area — along with the fourth ranked rusher in the Stanislaus district. Central Catholic has scored a whopping 1,027 points this season—999 more than Hilmar’s total allowance—for an average of 79 points per game, but even those numbers don’t make much of an impact on a Hilmar team that can best be described as having a cool confidence about them.
“They’re ready for this game. They’ve been fired up all week,” head coach Frank Marques said of his team. “It’s a different threat, I don’t know if it’s the biggest—it’s the biggest threat because it’s the next game, but we’ve faced some pretty good teams. I’m very respectful of Central Catholic and their program, but I think they are just another football team that we need to prepare for.”
Central Catholic’s road to today’s title game has been paved by running back Matt Ringer and his 2,017 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns. A virtual unknown during last season’s state championship run, Ringer has emerged as the 28th ranked rusher in California and is expected to continue his gains today. Marques and his team aren’t fooled, however, as they’ve been careful not to focus too much on Ringer and his exploits. After all, a runner is only as good as his blockers.
“I don’t think it’s as much him as it is their offensive line. That line is huge and they’re very physical, they open up some huge holes,” Marques said. “He’s a good back, but you got to give a lot of compliments to their offensive line, how good they are.”
Size or speed? The answer to that question will likely determine today’s winner. Hilmar’s defensive line has been the foundation of its success, greatly contributing to this season’s totals of 50.5 sacks, but it’s also a unit that weighs in on the lower end of the scale.
“They will be the biggest line we’ve faced all year,” Marques said. “Size versus speed: it’s going to be an interesting battle.”
“Our defense is the reason why we’re here. They’ve been able to stop people all year and I have a lot of confidence and faith in them. Whatever happens tomorrow, the reason we’re here is because of our defense,” Marques added.
Faith and confidence has been a constant for Hilmar this season, but those traits were once hard to come by when it came time to face Central Catholic.
There was a time when the Raiders’ reputation loomed in the minds of their opponents. With a program known for winning—consistently and convincingly— Central Catholic was an intimidating team to face. But all that changed in 2008, the year Hilmar defeated the Raiders, 17-6, in the Division V SJS Championship game.
“What it did was take away that aura and mystique of Central Catholic, because they hadn’t really lost to a public school in title games. So I think it made them human,” Marques said. “They’re human like we are and I think our kids now think we have a shot.”
Defense alone can’t ensure a clean shot at the Division IV title, however, as Hilmar’s offense will also have to step up to the occasion. But with left tackle Britton Smith back from injury and seniors Tyler Robinson, Kris and Kenny Camden, Trent Orosco hungry to end their high school careers with a bang, the ‘Jackets’ O is sure to be ready.
“I like our chances offensively, too,” Marques said.
No matter how you slice it, today’s matchup is guaranteed to be an exciting affair. Hilmar’s hunt for its 7th section championship has its players motivated to no end, but with Central Catholic searching for its 17th section title, its tank is brimming with fuel for the fire.
“It’s going to take a perfect game with no mistakes on our part,” Marques said. “The last two playoff games, I think there’s been a combined 11 turnovers that they have received. They’re too talented of a team to receive gifts, so if we can stop that—which we’ve been pretty good at this year—then I think we’re in,”