For a full week, the Hilmar High School defense listened to the hype.
With starting quarterback Chase Kindberg lost for the season to a knee injury, the big question was, could the Yellowjackets move the ball against a stout Ripon defense that had yielded just 16 points in league play?
Hilmar felt a little overlooked. Bolstered by coach Frank Marques’ belief that the Yellowjackats were still the best team in the Trans-Valley League, they limited Ripon to one first down and 56 yards in the first half Friday night. The defense followed with a goal-line stand and a blocked field-goal attempt after the break to seal a 21-7 victory at Stouffer Field and capture the TVL title.
“I told the kids from the beginning that even without Chase, I thought we were still the best team in the TVL,” Marques said. “Tristan (Crowley) was a guy we had faith (in) that could step in and do the job. He’s got a cannon for an arm and a lot of poise.
“Our defense has kept us in every ballgame, so we thought we could give their offense some trouble. I felt as long as we came out and didn’t make a bunch of mistakes, we would win.”
Hilmar’s defense helped ease Crowley into his first varsity start, pinning the Indians deep on their side and giving the left-hander short fields to work with.
The Yellowjackets (9-1, 5-0 TVL) cashed in one short field at the end of the first quarter. Starting at the Ripon 29-yard line, Crowley helped convert a couple of first downs before Cody Rentfro (28 carries, 188 yards) bulldozed in from 9 yards out to open the scoring.
Hilmar struck again on its next series. Crowley gave a nice fake on the read-option and then sprinted into the end zone untouched from 12 yards out to make it 13-0.
“Our line stepped up. Our receivers were running good routes, and our backup quarterback stepped up and did what he needed to do,” Rentfro said. “It was hard going, but we got it done.
“You can’t doubt us. When you do, that’s when we have to prove you wrong. Tell people to keep dogging us. We’ll just keep winning.”
For all that went wrong for Ripon (6-4, 4-1 TVL) in the first half – three-and-out on four of its five possessions and just 56 total yards – the Indians only trailed by six at intermission. Riley Machado picked up Ripon’s only first down of the half, gashing Hilmar for 24 yards on a reverse-draw play. Luis Candido punched it in from 9 yards out on the next play to trim the lead to 13-7.
The Indians had a little more offensive success after the break. They found running room with their double-wing attack, and once they picked up a couple first downs, began playing uptempo. Ripon looked poised to tie the score or take the lead with its second possession of the second half, marching 71 yards in 10 plays to earn a first and goal at the Hilmar 6.
But the Yellowjackets responded, turning away Ripon at the 1 with a monster goal-line stand.
“That series was probably the key in the game,” Marques said. “We had a goal-line stop like that a couple years ago against Escalon that turned our season around. That was one of those season-defining plays.”
Hilmar followed with a blocked field goal on Ripon’s next series, and the offense put away the game with the ensuing drive. The ’Jackets went 78 yards in nine plays, capping the victory with a 4-yard touchdown toss from Crowley to Klay Farris.
“We knew all along what Tristan had and that there wasn’t going to be a big change with him stepping in,” outside linebacker Tyler Amarante said. “The full playbook was still available to us, and we felt like we were the better defense. There were plenty of people that doubted we could win this one without Chase, but coach made sure we never doubted ourselves.”