Expect a battle.
It’s the No. 2 seed Sonora Wildcats against the No. 5 seed Escalon Cougars for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 5 football title.
Game time is 6 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 26 at St. Mary’s High School in Stockton.
“Bring your cowbells, bring your noisemakers because we’re going to need everybody to beat this team,” Escalon head coach Andrew Beam said.
The game will mark the 17th title appearance for Escalon High School since 1990.
“That speaks to the tradition of this town, of Escalon football,” Beam added.
But the coach and his players know that the highly talented, tough and hungry Wildcats are in their way. Sonora comes in at 10-2; Escalon, which has played one more game since Sonora had a first-round bye in the playoffs, comes in at 10-3.
Escalon defeated the top seed Sutter Huskies, 23-2, on Friday night (See story, photos in Sports, Page A6) while Sonora defeated No. 6 seed Dixon, 49-34. To reach the finals, Escalon first took down No. 12 Pacheco, 55-0; put away league rival and No. 4 seed Hilmar, 42-28, then defeated Sutter. Sonora defeated No. 10 Center in the quarterfinals, 48-15 before hosting and defeating Dixon in the semifinals.
“We were hoping for the Saturday night game,” Beam said of playing the 6 p.m. contest. “That gives us an extra day to rest, an extra day to prepare.”
It also gives the team an extra day to recover from Thanksgiving.
The 1 p.m. contest on Saturday will see Trans-Valley League team Hughson take on the Mother Lode League’s Summerville, the Huskies going in as the No. 2 seed and Summerville with the No. 1 seed.
Escalon and Sonora will be the second TVL-MLL match of the day. The contest will also be featured on The Blitz, produced by The Times' sister paper, The Turlock Journal, and sponsored by Escalon's Main Street Garage.
“Gates will open one hour before the game,” Beam said. “Parking is at a premium and so is seating on the visitors’ side, so get there early.”
The Cougars will be wearing their all-white uniforms and helmet combo as the visiting team; it was a look they unveiled during the playoffs and will keep it going through to the finale.
The Cougars are defending champions in Division 5, having defeated Hilmar last year in the title contest. This year, they face the Wildcats.
And while Escalon got the win in the semifinals to get a chance at another blue banner, there was some easing off on the gas pedal, something that Beam said can’t happen this time around.
“We know that if we do that against this next opponent, we won’t win,” the coach said.
Senior Owen Nash, one of this year’s captains, agreed that there has to be a total team focus.
“It starts with the leaders, especially our seniors,” Nash said, adding that they have to clean up mistakes that cost them several yards in penalties against Sutter.
Fellow senior and captain Ryker Peters echoed Nash, and said the score against Sutter should have been a bigger blowout than the 23-2 final.
“We’ve got to focus on the simple errors; as much as five yards is, if it starts to stack up time and time again, it’s going to put us deep in the hole and if we go into next week with the mentality of, oh, we can just waltz in and win this and bring a blue banner back to Escalon, that’s not going to happen. We have to stay focused; we have to fix the mental errors and if we do, this team could be great but … we’ve got some work to do.”
Focus will be the watchword on both sides of the ball and senior Jacob Rauch is eager for the challenge the Wildcats will bring.
“We’re a better team than the scoreboard showed tonight,” he noted after the Nov. 18 win. “Stupid penalties, as soon as we clean that up, get that simple stuff down, like coach Beam always says, it’s the little things to fix. If we get that down, we’ll be a much better football team than we showed tonight and we’ll have a chance.”
It was a rough night for the Escalon offense at Sutter, with high winds playing havoc with the passing game and the offensive line called for several penalties.
Junior quarterback Donovan Rozevink is confident the team will come back strong and said it will take everyone being on the same page to take down Sonora.
“I have trust in my linemen, they’ll come back and be ready for Sonora,” Rozevink said. “We just have to be ready, you know, they hit hard, they’re tough kids just like us … they’re going to come ready. They’ve got great d-line men, great linemen all around, they’re a great team, we have to prepare like honestly, it’s the last game of our career, we just have to prepare like that.”