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Cougars Get Past Fumbles, Rainy Conditions To Defeat Ripon
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In what will go down as one of the sloppiest games in Escalon history - second only to a Thanksgiving time playoff game in Colfax several years ago - the Cougars held on for the win Friday night in Ripon, even if they couldn't hold on to the ball.

Fumbling a total of 12 times, and losing seven of them, Escalon's varsity Cougars nevertheless took a 28-13 win off the wet, muddy, rutted slop pit that doubled as Stouffer Field in Ripon to win their Trans-Valley League opener.

"We dodged a bullet," admitted a relieved coach Mark Loureiro, noting that not only did the Cougars find a way to win, they got out of the terrible conditions without getting anyone hurt. "Good teams adapt, find a way to win but that might have been on the of the ugliest games we've ever played in my years here at Escalon."

A hard, driving rain fell throughout the JV game so the field was already in deplorable condition when the varsity hit the gridiron to warm up. The rain continued, though it did lighten up, in the first half of the varsity contest. The skies cleared and the rain stopped for the second half, but the field was still in no shape for solid footing for either team.

"The Colfax game was the worst, but this right, here, is number two," Loureiro said. "They (Ripon) were able to adapt better to the conditions than we were, we struggled with the quarterback-center exchange more than they did."

When Escalon did get the clean snap, their best attack was Josh May, following the blocks of his offensive line.

"Josh had 27 carries for 212 yards and a couple of touchdowns, we got a monster game out of him," Loureiro said. "We also had a couple of big plays from Rocky Overturf, he had a big third down conversion that kept a touchdown drive going, then his second big carry was a touchdown."

Loureiro said it was difficult to get anything going, with the rain pouring down, the field sloppy and players bothered by the rain and mud.

"Thank God for our defense in the first half," Loureiro said. "We put the defenses' back against the wall and I thought they did a great job to keep Ripon to two scores with all the chances we gave them."

Making what adjustments they could at halftime, the Cougars did a better job with the ball control in the second half and were able to scratch out scores in each half to take the win.

"Twelve fumbles, seven lost, that's unheard of," Loureiro said, almost incredulous that they got the win despite those types of numbers.

The weather conditions also worked to Ripon's advantage in that they didn't have to defend the Cougars as other teams have had to this season.

"It took our speed, misdirection and agility out of the game for us," Loureiro said of playing in the slop. "The conditions took a lot of our weapons away from us but I thought the offensive line did a nice job of blocking, Austin Jackson, Justin Wade, Joe Cowan and Brandon Collins, they were our big blockers."

May also praised their efforts, noting that he just followed the blocks to churn up what yardage he could.

Jesus Duran also scored a rushing touchdown and put the extra points on after each score, including one on a bad snap that looked like it might be key after Ripon failed to convert the point after on their second touchdown of the night.

"I told Al (assistant coach Al Caton) in the third quarter that we might have to win this thing, 14-13," Loureiro admitted.

But the Cougars pushed on, slogged through, and made things work.

The host team scored first, on a 15-yard pass play in the first quarter and a point after for a 7-0 lead. Escalon answered, Josh May running it in from 2 yards out before the quarter ended and Jesus Duran adding the kick, tying the game at 7-7.

Neither team could punch one through in the second quarter and the teams were tied at the half.

Taking the ball to start the second half, Escalon went on a drive that ate up more than four minutes and resulted in a touchdown run from May, a 3-yard plunge, with Duran adding the extra point to make it 14-7 with 7:48 to go in the third.

May carried the ball seven times on that drive alone, good for 53 yards, and Duran had two carries for 14 on the drive.

Ripon later capitalized on an Escalon fumble in the quarter and turned it into a 33-yard pass play for a touchdown, but the extra point was no good so the Cougars held a 14-13 lead after three quarters.

Duran got in for a touchdown with 6:33 to play in the game, with big carries on the drive from Overturf and May before Duran took it in from 6 yards out and kicked the extra point. That gave Escalon some breathing room, at 21-13, and they made it 28-13 with 2:29 to go, Overturf scoring from 11 yards out and Duran adding the point after.

Ripon gambled on a fourth down play deep in their own end, faking the punt, but the Cougars were not fooled and used the good field position to their advantage, putting the game away on the next drive, capped by Overturf's run.

"Read blocks and just keep going," Overturf said of dealing with the conditions and making the most of each carry. "It was actually really hard, couldn't get your footing, traction, anything."

Quarterback Aprile agreed.

"The whole thing about this game was just keeping control of the ball," he said. "It was sloppy but we pounded it out, Josh May, Jesus Duran and the offensive line, that's all, the game was right there."

Duran was also happy with the win, though he said there were some scary moments for the team.

"After the fifth fumble," he said, "it started getting scary. It was so wet, hard to play in this but we overcame the wind and rain ... we got the win."

Jake Loureiro caught the only pass that Aprile completed on the night, good for 11 yards. The Cougars only attempted two passes all night, opting to keep the ball on the ground. Ripon completed seven of 13 pass attempts.

Escalon had 17 first downs to Ripon's five, with the Cougars getting 274 total yards, 263 of them on 47 rushing plays with one pass for 11 yards. Ripon had 108 total yards of offense, 32 rushing yards on 32 carries, 76 passing yards.

Ripon had three fumbles and lost one, Escalon had 12 fumbles and lost seven. The host Indians were penalized two times for 15 yards, Escalon four times for 50 yards.

Leading tackler was Jake Loureiro with nine tackles and one sack. Izzy Ruiz and Joe Cowan each had eight tackles and a sack, Brandon Collins had six tackles and a sack.

"We had a major effort from those guys, big plays," said Loureiro.

This week, the Cougars will host Ripon Christian in a 7:30 p.m. game at Engel Field on Friday, Oct. 19. It will be celebrated as Senior Night as well and the Cougars look to improve to 2-0 in Trans-Valley League play when they host the Knights.