Running as hard as he could on a cold November night might not have exactly been the best thing for Pierce Ripanti after he missed a couple of days of school at Caravel Academy this week while battling flu-like symptons.
But Ripanti wasn’t about to let his teammates down. And besides, getting the chance to hold up the DIAA Division II Football State Tournament championship trophy after a 39-29 win over Hodgson on Friday night proved to be some pretty good medicine.
Ripanti, a 6-foot-1, 187-pound senior, simply put the third-seeded Buccaneers on his back and helped them run out the clock to bring an end to a late uprising by No. 2-seed Hodgson, which erupted for 22 points in the fourth quarter.
Ripanti finished with 249 yards on 32 carries – an average of 7.7 yards per tote – and scored a pair of touchdowns for Caravel (13-0), which captured its fourth D-II title and first since 2005.
There was never any doubt as to whether Ripanti was going to play.
“I’ve been struggling a little bit, but once I got out here this is my team and I’ve been playing for these kids for three years and they’ve been playing for me,” said Ripanti, about his teammates. “Each and every one of them gave me their heart for me so I had to give my heart for them. It’s my last game, I love this and I just had to leave it on the line. It was win or bust … and we won.”
Darnell Savage, a sophomore running back for the Bucs, says he has learned a lot from the upperclassman this year.
“Pierce is a great leader, he really is,” said Savage, who rushed for 158 yards on 19 carries and scored three TDs. “He gets us motivated before games and works hard in practice. Pierce is as model a leader as anyone would want to be. He’s a heck of a player.”
While basking in the glow of the championship in the middle of Delaware State University’s Alumni Stadium, senior offensive lineman Troy Glenn said that Ripanti is just “one of them.” The line respects what the running back brings to the table and does its best to try to create holes for him.
Caravel chewed its way to 447 rushing yards on 57 carries (7.8 yards per carry).
“[Ripanti] was battling the flu, so he definitely came out and showed us some heart because he was pushing through and moving the rock down the field when we needed it to run out the clock and the end of the game,” Glenn said. “He really came through for us. He might have missed three days of practice but he came out for the game and that’s all that matters.”
Ripanti wound up scoring Caravel’s first touchdown, with a 4-yard run in the first quarter, and its last TD, on a 9-yard scamper that gave the Bucs a 39-15 lead with 7:04 remaining.
It was a whole lot better feeling than when Ripanti looked at a scoreboard that read Indian River 35, Caravel 13, following last season’s D-II championship.
“I’ve never felt this before. It’s just amazing, honestly,” Ripanti said. “I wouldn’t have wanted to deal with anybody else. There’s not a greater group of guys, each and every one of them.
“We knew it was going to be a battle. It’s for the state championship. We pulled one out last week [against IR] and we knew this was going to be a war and we just did what we had to do.”
Today, maybe Ripanti should rest a little. He probably needs it.