After missing a two-point conversion attempt in the final touchdown of the game, all Hilmar High’s varsity football team needed to do was hold Ripon Christian but the Knights weren’t going down without a fight.
Much to Hilmar’s surprise, the Knights came out ready to play after an intense start, which led to a score in their first drive and afterwards, both sides battled back and forth until the final minute of action.
With just over a minute left in regulation, Ripon Christian regained possession for one final drive down by just six, but after a bobbled snap with 23.5 seconds left in the game, Cody Rentfro forced quarterback Travis Zuidervaart to turn the ball over, recovering the ball to win in dramatic fashion, 34-28.
“I knew I needed that ball… just to finish the game because I’m sore and tired,” said Rentfro. “Ever since the beginning when we started, we always said to finish and we always wanted to finish and we did tonight. We came through at the end and our defense stepped up and finished, which was great.”
“I am really proud of our kids because we persevered and I am really proud of Ripon Christian for putting up such a tough fight,” said Hilmar head coach Frank Marques. “This game was like high school playoff games are supposed to be. Real proud of the whole team to overcome the obstacles.”
Hilmar had to overcome, without question, the ugliest game offensively that they had played all year long — missing snaps, fumbling punt returns, you name it, it happened.
The defense struggled at times, but never broke. And despite bad field position at times, the defense kept RC to one touchdown in the second half after allowing 21 first half points.
There were countless opportunities that Hilmar could have potentially put the game out of reach from the onset but the offense for Hilmar was staggered by a very determined RC defense that played a solid game.
“I am excited because I knew they would be tough,” said Rentfro.
Daniel Teixeira, who had a rough first half, threw an interception on a third down in his second attempt and RC responded by scoring the first touchdown of the game on a two-play drive.
Hilmar responded with a two minute drive that resulted in a score of their own after Josh Jennings went into the end zone from 43-yards out to tie the game at 7-7.
After RC went three and out, Rentfro’s three-yard run put the ‘Jackets up despite missing the extra point at 13-7 with 6:35 left in the first quarter.
Rentfro, then intercepted Zuidervaart’s pass on the first play of the ensuing drive, but the Hilmar offense was held on a fourth down attempt with just one-yard to go.
RC punted to Hilmar, who then scored on a touchdown pass to Chase Kindberg from seven yards out to go up 20-7 before the end of the first.
RC scored two more times before the half ended, holding Hilmar to no touchdowns in the second quarter and starting the second half on a roll.
The offense was rolling for the Knights, who went on a nine-play drive but the ‘Jackets defense held them on a fourth and two.
Both sides were held scoreless for the entire third quarter, which was a defensive game at that point.
But Hilmar was determined to score, and finally in the fourth quarter a six-play drive ended with a perfect corner end zone touchdown pass to Alex Chavez from 29-yards out for the go-ahead score followed by a two-point conversion for a score of 28-21 with 5:21 left in the game.
RC went only four plays before they tied the game at 28-28.
With just under four minutes left in the game, Hilmar was forced to punt after a three-and-out, but on the Knights fourth play of the ensuing drive, Noah Batista came up with a critical interception that set up the eventual game-winning touchdown.
“Coach told us at halftime that we had 24 minutes left and play our hearts out and we did… I am just happy we got the win,” said Batista. “We never overlooked RC. We tried to prepare for these guys like we did for all the teams.”
From 11-yards out, Teixeira was in shotgun mode and after an anticipated pass play from RC, Teixeira tucked the ball in and made a full on sprint down the middle as he weaved his way into the end zone for the game winning touchdown.
Despite a missed two-point conversion, the score would be enough to send his team to the championship game despite RC’s final drive that resulted in a turnover.
“I think we were tight and nervous during the beginning; we just needed to relax a little bit and have some fun and we did at the end,” said Marques.
The D-VI Section Championship game will be played at Stockton High School against Bradshaw Christian at 6 p.m. Nov. 28.