In a new twist on a cross-county rivalry, the coveted 120 Cup is headed to Escalon.
The mayors of Oakdale and Escalon agreed on establishing a perpetual trophy, as the two city’s high school football teams met this past Friday night in preseason football. Dubbed the 120 Cup, the trophy is to be presented annually, staying in the town that wins the game.
For the inaugural contest on Sept. 15, it was the Cougars coming away with the 41-21 win … and the Cup. The trophy, once engraved with the score for the 2023 contest, will be displayed at Escalon High School.
Escalon Mayor Pro Tem Andy Hagan stood in for Mayor David Bellinger at the pre-game ceremony Friday night at midfield of The Corral in Oakdale, shaking hands with Oakdale Mayor Cher Bairos and posing with the trophy prior to kickoff.
Locked up in a tight 7-7 contest after one quarter, Escalon’s athleticism, quickness and determination saw them pull away with a 21-7 scoring edge in the second quarter, taking a 28-14 lead into the locker room at halftime. The Cougars put two more scores on the board in the second half to Oakdale’s one, walking off the field with a solid victory.
“We might have even ended up having more fans there,” Escalon head coach Andrew Beam said, as the Cougar fans filled up the bleachers on the visiting side and spilled out onto the fence line surrounding the field. “There were a lot of little things that all added up.”
Motivation was key, he said, as the Cougars were a bit put out by the ‘little brother’ chatter going around the communities, stepping up to silence those in Oakdale who considered themselves – at least prior to the game – as the ‘big’ brother.
By virtue of a larger student body and playing in a higher division, it seemed as though many of the Mustang players felt the game was already won before setting foot on the gridiron.
But in the true road warrior fashion that has become a familiar one for them this preseason, the Cougars spoiled the party and sent the Mustangs off their field with a lopsided loss.
“This was a 10-mintue drive, we got to go home after school, there was no sense of feeling rushed,” Beam said of the contest, just a few miles from Cougar Country. “We had a good week of practice and we were excited to play Oakdale, not a lot of players in Escalon have gotten to play them … there were a lot of former players there to watch this.”
Quarterback Donovan Rozevink passed for 285 yards and five scores on the night, spreading the ball around to a number of receivers. The team bounced back after its first loss of the season, falling to California High School of San Ramon on Sept. 8 by a final of 42-21, an almost identical score to Friday night except Escalon was on the winning side this time.
“Honestly, we didn’t really tell each other anything besides there was no chance we could lose; we weren’t going to lose to this team,” Rozevink said of facing Oakdale and silencing the talk. “It’s probably the last time I’ll ever play them but I threw five touchdowns on them and I’m happy about that.”
Leading receiver Sam Jimenez pulled in three of those touchdown passes.
“I think we proved we have really tough, good guys that are going to bring it every week,” Jimenez said. “It feels amazing, we’re the best team around here now so we’ve got to keep it going.”
Beam said this game proved that the gauntlet his Cougars have faced this preseason – traveling to Merced, Clovis, Windsor and San Ramon – paid dividends on Friday night.
“Everything seemed slower,” he explained. “We were more confident.”
The tough preseason campaign leading up to the battle for the 120 Cup sharpened his squad and they were determined to take the victory in their preseason finale, going 4-1 over the five games.
Beam said there was plenty of praise to go around, with everyone figuring in to the win.
“I give credit to the players, the coaches and the fans,” he said. “Our kids are battle tested and we are healthy going into league. We ran a gauntlet for five weeks … and we survived it.”
Escalon has its bye week on Sept. 22; they then go on the road to open up Trans-Valley League play on Sept. 29 against the rival Hughson Huskies.