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Cougars Are In
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For the first time in the history of the State Bowl Football Championship series, a public school will be representing the Northern section in the Division 3 contest.

And that school is Escalon.

The Cougars were tapped to play in the state's D3 Bowl and will face off with the Madison (San Diego) Warhawks in a noontime game on Saturday, Dec. 18 in Carson, California.

Escalon head coach Mark Loureiro learned the news just after noon Sunday, and made the announcement at the varsity football team banquet that afternoon. The banquet was previously scheduled and news of the football season being extended for the Cougars was a welcome addition to the afternoon festivities.

"We're in deep here, it's a real good team," Loureiro admitted.

But, as he told players, parents and families attending the banquet, Escalon isn't headed to the bowl with the idea that just being there is good enough.

"Believe me, it's a shock, it's an honor, there's lots of excitement, but there's a lot of work ahead of us," he said. "This is the biggest task this program has ever taken on."

Loureiro and Escalon High School Principal Jason Maggard were on a plane early Monday morning, headed to Carson for a press conference that introduced all the teams playing in a series of games during the upcoming Bowl weekend. It was also there he was slated to exchange films with Rick Jackson, the head coach for Madison.

"This team will be prepared," Loureiro said of his Cougars being up to the challenge.

Escalon was selected to represent the North in Division 3 over Cardinal Newman, which was also in contention. Loureiro said it may have come down to the common opponent - Central Catholic - that both teams faced this year. Escalon shut out Central, 28-0, in the playoffs on their way to the Sac-Joaquin Section D4 crown, while Cardinal Newman needed overtime to eke out a 24-21 win over the Raiders earlier in the season.

"They looked at overall record, common opponent and strength of schedule," Loureiro said of the bowl selection committee.

Cardinal Newman was 11-3, Escalon was 13-1. While the strength of schedule was tougher for Cardinal Newman, Escalon got them on wins and in the common opponent.

"There were also the intangibles," added Loureiro. "No public school has ever been in the D3 game and I have to think our history, our tradition and the support of this program helped.

"Pete Saco, our CIF Section commissioner, also did a great job, he has to sell you to the committee."

The selection announcement set in motion a whirlwind of activity, with arrangements being made for bussing, hotels, rooter buses and more to get players and fans alike to Carson - just south of Los Angeles - to the game. The Boosters Club parking lot sale, originally scheduled for Saturday, has been cancelled, as many will be making the trip down south instead.

Loureiro said his job is to make sure the team and coaches are ready for what lies ahead.

"Madison High School is a public school in the Western Conference in San Diego County," he said. "They won their league this year and won the Section title in a 40-14 game, they beat Valley Center, which was formerly the number one ranked team in the section."

Other playoff wins for the Warhawks included a 52-14 win and a 48-7 verdict.

"They have a very explosive offense," said Loureiro. "They have multiple formations and they're really good at the skill positions. They also have a lot of speed and that will create some difficult match ups."

There are roughly 1,500 students at James Madison High, but Loureiro said he knows Escalon's fans will follow their team as well, making for a good crowd at the Home Depot Center in Carson for the noon kickoff on Dec. 18.

Team leaders for the Warhawks are quarterback Chase Knox, 6-1, 175, throwing for over 2,200 yards and 24 touchdowns. Leading receivers are Akeem Woodson, 6-3, 185 (35 catches, 10 touchdowns) and Jeremy Hutchison, 5-10, 170 (26 catches). Top rusher is Desaan Hardwick, 5-11, 175, with 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The defense is led by linebackers Jamarie Sanders, 5-9, 170 and Aaron Barbosa, 5-8, 160.

Presale tickets will be available on Wednesday and Thursday - cash only - at the counseling center on the Escalon High School campus from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 general admission, $8 for seniors, students with ID cards and children.

Loureiro said history is not on Escalon's side - as the North has been defeated the majority of times by Southern teams in bowl games - but if any team can rewrite history, he said, it is this year's Cougars.

"We will play with heart, we will play with desire ... it will take everyone's best effort," said Loureiro. "By no means am I ready to concede to the South.

"They have a lot going for them," he added of the Warhawks. "But they haven't played against the Escalon High Cougars."