RIPON — When a sweat-drenched helmet dripped liquid effort from Ripon football phenom Danny Hernandez in last summer’s blazing heat, the junior only had a mirage of possible playoff battles on a crisp November evening.

Hernandez and his teammates prepped for an effective offense, but it’s been the brotherhood of the Ripon defense that’s cemented the squad as it’s advanced from a Trans-Valley League title to an appearance in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division V semifinal against Grass Valley-Bear River this Friday evening at Ripon High.

No. 3 Bear River (10-1) grabbed a 28-13 victory over No. 6 Antelope-Center (8-4) in the other bracket to earn a trip down Highway 99 to face Ripon (10-1) with a berth in the section finale on the line.

After Ripon took an early 7-0 lead Friday its defense quickly took control in its 49-20 second-round win against Mountain House (10-2) on the Mustangs’ first offensive possession.

Ripon pushed the Mustangs backwards on three-straight plays and, when Mountain House punter Vladik Sutherland stepped up to kick from inside his 10-yard line, Ripon senior Gregory Clark blocked the ball and teammate Roland Davis scooped up the pigskin for a quick six and a 14-0 advantage and an eventual 42-6 halftime lead.

Ripon’s defense harassed Mustangs senior signal-caller Jesse Jordan all night and held the Mountain House offense to zero or negative yards on 19 of 34 offensive plays for just 14 rushing yards and 160 total yards in the win.

“(Our) staff came out with a plan and the kids executed the plan unbelievably well,” Musseman said. “I couldn’t be happier with the way they played all night. Everything we’ve asked all summer and fall and everyday in practice – they’re just working hard.”

The offense, to be sure, did its part as Davis rushed for 126 yards on six carries, while teammates Hernandez and Derric Roy rushed for 93 and 28 yards respectively with each twice reaching the end zone.

Ripon junior Dorian Dougherty had one catch, but the 48 yarder went for a touchdown from senior quarterback Ryan Daggett, who was 5 of 7 for 109 passing yards.

Ripon’s offense coughed the ball up with a third quarter fumble and the Mustangs returned the ball for a touchdown to chip back for a 42-14 score.

But Hernandez intercepted Mountain House backup quarterback Timothy Cantu II at the Ripon seven-yard line to end a 13-play drive for a 93-yard pick-six, his team-leading fifth interception of the season and a 49-14 lead and a running clock with 11:02 left in the contest.

“That was a great touchdown at the end there (by Hernandez),” said Musseman, who also credited junior Brandon Rainer’s defensive pressure. “It’s unbelievably important for our whole team (to get turnovers). Our defense has always been a stalwart for us. Our offense played great, but our defense played great when it had to.”

Hernandez still thinks about Ripon’s title-clinching win over Modesto Christian but is thrilled to live in the moment.

“I could have dreamed of us being here, but I never thought of it happening,” Hernandez said. “It’s exhilarating standing here. (Mountain House) wasn’t really throwing my way all night. When I saw (the ball coming) I finally got my chance (to intercept it). I knew I couldn’t waste it. (Mountain House) wanted us and they got us.”