The Ripon High School Tiger football team dug itself an early hole last week Friday and was unable to climb out of it in a 21-7 season-ending home loss to the Sheboygan Falcons.
Ripon fell behind 15-0 after one quarter, before out-scoring the Falcons 7-6 the rest of the way.
“We just got off to a slow start and made some mistakes and they cost us,” Ripon head coach Mark Bradley said. “Once we regained our composure and got back into [what we do], then we played better the rest of the three quarters.”
Sheboygan Falls (4-3 conference, 5-4 overall) got on the board first a couple minutes into the game on a safety after pinning Ripon deep in its own territory on a punt. The Falcons then scored on a 15-yard touchdown pass on the ensuing possession to take a 9-0 lead less than four minutes in and added a 9-yard touchdown run with a little more than two minutes left in the first quarter to make it 15-0.
The Tigers (1-6 conference, 1-8 overall) had a chance to score as well in the first quarter as they drove the ball down to the Falcons’ 12-yard line, but couldn’t complete passes on third and fourth downs.
They were hurt by a pair of false start penalties on the drive, one of which came on first down and the other on fourth. That wasn’t the only drive where penalties came back to hurt them as they committed three-straight false starts later on a drive later in the first half and had an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that took them out of scoring range on a drive in the third quarter.
Penalties were a story throughout the game and both teams were whistled for a number of infractions, which included a handful of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
“Whenever we kind of got close to the end zone or in their territory, something would happen and we’d get penalties or something like that that kind of took us out of our rhythm of what we were doing on offense,” Bradley said, noting it forced the Tigers to pass the ball more than they wanted.
Ripon also was the unlucky recipient of what Bradley believed was a bad spot, which gave the Falcons the ball back on downs in the first half as Ripon was trying to drive down the field and cut into the 15-0 deficit. Bradley then was whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct for pleading his case.
Bradley added that some of the penalties and calls he agreed with and some he didn’t, but that’s part of football and he and his players have to not let it bother them and keep moving forward.
Outside of that first quarter, Bradley was pleased with the way his defense played. It allowed just one touchdown — a 9-yard run with four minutes left in the third quarter — in the final 36 minutes.
“The quarterback was a very good thrower and accurate thrower, and we were able to get some pressures on him; we were able to sustain our coverages and not let him kind of stand back and scan the field and find the open receiver,” Bradley said. “It was just a team effort of getting pressure and guarding the guys and some nice pass deflections that we had on the defense, too.”
Ripon allowed just 263 yards of offense, which was split fairly evenly between passing and rushing as Sheboygan Falls passed for 136 yards on 6-of-14 passing and rushed for 136 yards on 35 carries.
The Tigers actually out-gained the Falcons in total offensive yards as they racked up 276 yards, 213 of which came on the ground on 37 carries. However, they only had a touchdown to show for it.
The score came early in the fourth quarter, when Cameron Hahn punched the ball in from 2 yards out. Ripon got the ball in good field position to begin the drive as Gannon Stellmacher returned a punt 22 yards to Sheboygan Falls’ 25-yard line. Hahn accounted for 12 of Ripon’s 25 yards on that drive.
“We were able to get our inside running going,” Bradley said, noting Sheboygan Falls had done a good job of slowing down Hahn and the power run up the middle. “... It was a good possession for us. It’s too bad we couldn’t have finished more drives like that because we had plenty of chances.”
Hahn finished with 58 yards on 16 carries, while Ethan Struble led the way with 90 yards on 13 tries. Gannon Stellmacher and Noah Olson chipped in 40 and 25 yards, respectively, on four carries each.
In the passing game, Struble completed 8 of 18 passes for 63 yards and also threw an interception. Stellmacher hauled in six of those catches for 47 yards, while Kai Agamaite and Olson caught one pass each for 12 and four yards, respectively.
Looking back and ahead
The loss to Sheboygan Falls marked the final high school football game for 10 seniors. Among them are Agamaite, Donovan Huber, Stellmacher, Hahn, Brett Bock, Colin Schneider, Quintin Stephens, Jose Sanchez, Caleb Hopp and statistician Christian Grunert.
While Bradley would liked to have seen them have a more successful season this year, he noted they are going to be missed as they have helped the program build a foundation with hard work and teamwork.
“The last game of the year is always a tough one because those seniors have put in a lot of time and effort into football and into the program,” Bradley said. “... There’s a lot of sacrifice; you have to give up a lot of your summer time to practice and have games ... So these kids that have done it for a number of years, it shows a lot of character in them because it is not easy.”
He added that a lot of the seniors played for him all three years that he was the head coach and that a couple even got opportunities as freshmen on varsity. He’s happy to see those guys going out together.
While the seniors will leave holes that need to be filled, he noted it opens up opportunities for others.
“It gives those other younger kids a chance to step up and show what they have and be able to continue playing hard and working hard in the offseason to be able to be competitive ...,” Bradley said. “We have a long road ahead of us, but these kids, I think, can really put stuff together.”