When the last snap was taken, the Wildcats of Marin Catholic kneeling to run out the clock and claim victory, there was no wild celebration by the home team.
Instead, there were hugs and handshakes for the Cougars of Escalon, who battled in a NorCal Bowl game on Dec. 3 in San Rafael, coming up just a touchdown short in a 21-14 loss.
Marin Catholic would celebrate later, but as the seconds ticked off to end the game, the Wildcats and Cougars embraced, knowing they had just come through a war. Respect on both sides was evident, as the Bay area team left the field with more than a few players hobbling, unaccustomed to the smashmouth style of play that defines Cougar football.
“What you showed in that second half, we at Escalon, and our town and our people and the people that came before you, that’s who we are; this is who we are, a team that’s going to fight, lay everything on the line and that’s all we want to do, come out here with everything we have, give it everything we’ve got,” said head coach Andrew Beam, addressing his players in the post-game huddle. “We stood toe to toe with these guys; toe to toe … I am unbelievably proud of the effort, and the heart, that you guys showed.”
Escalon closed out the season with a 12-2 record; their only losses in the Homecoming game against Kimball and the season-ending loss to Marin Catholic.
Down 14-0 at halftime, senior captain Sebastian Snow said it was time to regroup.
“We just had to believe we were a better team, definitely playing a bigger school was harder but I felt we had the manpower to come out and be able to put some pressure on them” Snow said.
Part of the group that went 1-9 their freshman season, Snow said that helps to put things in perspective.
“Even just this year is amazing, we are one of the only few teams to make it this far and from where we started as freshman, coming this far my senior year really meant a lot.”
Sophomore Jamin Miller said he was proud that the team was able to prove how good they were, picked third or fourth in the Trans-Valley League at the beginning of the season, they went 6-0 to claim an outright TVL title and a Section banner before losing in the NorCals.
“We can’t win every game, it is what it is; we just have to come back next year bigger and better,” Miller said.
Fellow sophomore Donovan Rozevink, this year’s quarterback, threw for 22 touchdowns this season and said it was important in the second half against Marin Catholic to “play Escalon football” and fight back with everything they had.
Receiver Owen Nash had eight catches on the night but also gave a tip of the cap to the Wildcats.
“I’m so unbelievably proud of everybody and all the heart we showed; I definitely believe we are more of a family than they are but it is what it is; they played great, they played phenomenal,” said Nash.
For captain Tyler Medina, fighting to the final whistle was key.
“I think in the second half, we really wanted it more,” he said. “I thought we had them toward the end, they were falling, tapping out, I thought we were going to get them but, you know, that’s how life works; you don’t always get what you want.”
He still classified the season as both amazing and a blessing, for all the accomplishments.
“You gave that team every ounce of effort and fight they could have wanted; we just ran out of a little bit of time,” Beam assured his team following the contest.
He also praised the work and leadership of the seniors, who never gave up after that initial 1-9 high school campaign.
“You’ve raised the level of expectation at Escalon High School; as hard as that is to believe … you’ve raised the level of every team to follow you,” Beam said. “This is the standard, this is where we begin, and that’s because of you seniors.”
The final game was one senior Pietro Orlando will never forget.
“From getting annihilated almost every game (as freshmen) and thinking you’re never going to live up to the expectations that the people older than you are setting and then when we finally did it, it’s unbelievable,” Orlando said. “It’s one of those bittersweet things, coming from such humble beginnings … it shows that if we can get this far, from 1-9, you can do it; anybody can do it. It’s buying in, it’s willing to be part of the program and that’s truly what being an Escalon football player is about, putting in the hard work and being one with your brothers.”