RIPON – Doug Clark didn’t address his team like a coach who had just watched his squad lose for the third time in as many weeks. In fact, he spoke to them with the same positivity and encouragement that he has done many times following a victory.
Clark stood before his team of 18 players Friday night after a 34-7 loss to the 2019 CIF Division IV AA champion Ripon Indians and told them how proud he was of the effort they gave and that the wins will eventually come.
“I want our players to come out after 48 minutes with something positive and to get better each week,” Clark said. “Yeah, the scoreboard is not showing it, but we’ve got guys on our team who we are throwing into different positions each week. I just want them to get better each week and play hard for 48 minutes, and I thought that our players played their butts off for 48 minutes tonight. They never quit and never gave up and I’m very proud.”
The Calaveras players mirrored Clark’s positivity and optimism.
“It’s preseason and these games are supposed to be tough,” Calaveras junior Braeden Orlandi said. “I’m seeing fight in all 18 of the players who showed up today and that’s all I can ask for. We fought all 48 minutes. We are improving on little things every game. I think by the time we get to league, we’ll be ready.”
Calaveras senior linebacker/running back Jake Hopper added, “I’m not even mad; I’m proud of tonight. We are actually getting better little by little every week.”
And even after losing three games in a row, the Calaveras players remained upbeat and hopeful that there will be plenty to celebrate as the season continues.
“You lose a little bit of momentum with every loss, but that’s just going to make our next win just that much better,” senior quarterback Travis Byrd said. “I know that win is going to come. If it’s not next week, then it is going to come in league.”
Even though Calaveras lost by 27, the score could have been much closer had Calaveras been able to capitalize in key moments. The first of those moments came on the opening drive of the night. Ripon moved from its own 35-yard line all the way to the Calaveras 2-yard line. On back-to-back rushing attempts, Calaveras kept the Indians from reaching the end zone. But on fourth-and-goal from the two, Ripon powered its way for the touchdown and took a 7-0 lead.
Calaveras’ opening drive only lasted three plays and ended with a fumble that was recovered by Ripon at the Calaveras 40. It only took the Indians two plays to travel 40 yards and with 4:02 to play in the opening quarter, Ripon led 14-0.
Calaveras’ second drive ended in a three-and-out and as the second quarter began, Calaveras only had eight yards of total offense.
“The first drive, we made a mistake and fumbled the ball and that was our fault,” Orlandi said. “The second drive, our offensive line did a good job and we had some movement, but penalties hurt us.”
Ripon scored its third touchdown of the night with 8:05 to play in the first half and led 21-0. Offensively, Calaveras was unable to find any sort of rhythm and didn’t record a first down until four minutes to play in the half.
“They read our offense really well,” Byrd said about the Ripon defense. “Whatever direction we were going, the linebackers attacked and wanted to get us in the backfield.”
While Calaveras’ offense was struggling to find its groove, its defense kept Ripon out of the end zone the rest of the half.
Trailing by 21 to begin the third quarter, Calaveras put together its best drive of the night. Orlandi broke free for a 28-yard run, which took the ball to the Ripon 19. On third-and-10 from the Ripon 19, Byrd connected with Orlandi in the front-corner of the end zone for Calaveras’ only touchdown of the night.
“I saw that Braeden had the outside and the defender was playing inside and I knew that if I threw it outside, Braeden would be able to come up with it,” Byrd said. “He always fights for the ball and I trusted him to make that catch.”
Following the touchdown, Calaveras’ defense needed to make a stop and nearly did. For the second time, Ripon found the end zone on a fourth down play. A 12-yard touchdown pass with 2:04 left in the third quarter gave the Indians a 27-7 lead.
One major issue with only suiting up 18 players is that replacing an injured player can be very difficult. By the end of the night, of Calaveras’ five starting offensive linemen, only one was playing in his original spot. The shuffling of linemen forced some players to line up in different positions and they did so without being asked twice.
“I’m extremely happy for the guys who can step up,” Clark said. “When you have 18 guys and one guy goes down, you can’t just pull in one guy and replace him. Sometimes you have to have a big shift and we had a big shift tonight. I’m very proud of them.”
Ripon scored its final touchdown late in the fourth quarter and Calaveras was unable to respond with points of its own.
Orlandi finished the night with 73 yards on the ground and had two receptions for 21 yards and one score. Through the air, Byrd was 3 for 9 for 29 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. As a team, Calaveras was only able to gain 77 yards of total offense.
Calaveras (1-3, 0-0 MLL) has one final game before it begins Mother Lode League play on Oct. 1, which will be Sept. 17 against Bradshaw Christian on homecoming night. For many coaches, homecoming is a distraction. But for Clark, it’s an event that he is happy to have back on campus.
“Homecoming is a week that I love,” Clark said. “I don’t care about the distractions; there should be distractions. There’s the ringing of the bell, the floats and the dress up days. It’s something that I can’t wait for our kids to be a part of and it’s been a while since they had one.”
Calaveras’ JV team lost to Ripon 35-0 Friday night in Ripon.