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Cougars Claim Section Crown Angels In The End Zone
Not having tasted defeat since an eye-opening Friday night in mid-September against Patterson, Escalon's varsity football Cougars capped off a 13-1 storybook season with a come-from-behind, you've-got-to-be-kidding-me 22-20 victory over a determined Calaveras Redskins team at Lincoln High in Stockton on Dec. 3. (See story, additional photos in Sports, Page A19.) The win crowned Escalon as the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV champions.

Taking what seemed to be a safe 19-7 lead with just over nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Escalon had to dig deep and regroup after two Redskins touchdowns gave the resilient Mother Lode League champions a 20-19 lead with 2:54 to play in the game.

The final Cougar drive included a Hail Mary pass from a scrambling junior quarterback Gino Franceschetti on a fourth and 21 that somehow was pulled in by senior Brandon Shaw, going up and over two Redskins defenders, giving the Cougars life. A few rushing plays later, looking at a fourth and 4 with just 31 ticks of the clock left, it was Franceschetti and Shaw again, the senior Shaw holding the ball as junior Franceschetti sent off a field goal attempt after another perfect snap from long snapper Victor Carrillo.

When the ball sailed through the uprights for a 22-20 lead, then it was up to the defense to contain what had been an explosive Calaveras offense.

The Redskins returned the ball to near midfield on the kickoff and benefited from an Escalon too many men penalty but with 16 seconds left, defensive standout Tony Vincent put the exclamation point on the night with a sack of the Redskins quarterback to seal the win as time expired, securing the 225th career coaching victory for head coach Mark Loureiro.

"Unbelievable," said a happy but exhausted junior Josh Miguel, who rushed for 196 yards and accounted for two of Escalon's three touchdowns. "The best feeling in the world. That score we got just before halftime was big, but hats off to Calaveras, they're a good team."

Miguel couldn't say enough about teammate Franceschetti, scrambling for what seemed like forever before sending off the final pass.

"The football gods were on our side, Gino stuck in there looking for a guy to throw it to, we caught the good side of that one," Miguel said.

Senior Chad Hale said even when Calaveras took the lead, the Cougars would not let each other get down.

"We were fired up, we were ready to go, we knew we were going to come back," he said of finding that belief in each other so crucial to the game-winning drive. "There was some divine intervention there when the ball got tipped and Shaw caught it."

Shaw himself said his legs nearly gave out on him, scrambling while trying to elude the Redskins pursuing him down the field.

"In my mind, yes," Shaw said of knowing he was going to catch the ball as it arced its way toward him. "I had some doubters, but I proved 'em all wrong."

An emotional senior Adrian Cortes, wiping tears of joy from his face, said it all came down to the teamwork, the camaraderie of this year's Cougars, Escalon's latest band of brothers.

"The feeling is unexplainable, to come back out and win like that," he said. "Brandon, what an amazing effort, and we all just wanted it so much."

For senior James Hill, one of this year's team captains, it was a feeling on the sideline as they watched Calaveras take the lead that made the difference.

"No one had their head down, we knew we had to make something happen," he said. "We kept telling each other 'do not give up'."

It was that attitude - and perhaps some divine intervention - that helped craft the unlikely final drive.

"I thank the Lord for everything that happened, no one expected us to even be here," said senior Jacob Wallace. "This is the greatest day of my life."

Junior Tony Vincent, again a stalwart on defense, said Calaveras was an outstanding opponent.

"They're a tough team but we pulled it together at the end," Vincent said.

Watching the Redskins take the lead was hard, he said, but not a death sentence.

"No, we just tried harder. Three minutes left, we knew we had the time to go and score."

Quarterback Franceschetti said when he was looking down the barrel of a fourth and 21, knowing it was make the play or go home, there was only one thought going through his mind.

"This needs to be a miracle," he said.

That miracle came, and the field goal followed, earning Escalon the Section championship blue banner, hoisted proudly by Loureiro as he let his 2010 squad savor the sweet moment in history.

"I'm so proud of the team right now," Franceschetti added. "They fought their way through it."

Escalon now waits to see if it will be selected to play in the small schools Division 3 State Bowl, one of a handful of teams in consideration. That announcement is due on Sunday, Dec. 12 with the game in Carson, California at noon on Saturday, Dec. 18.