Friday night proved two things.
Escalon is not afraid of anybody on the gridiron.
And their community is behind them 100 percent.
In a contest likened to David vs. Goliath, the Cougars hosted the Buchanan Bears from Clovis, the visitors coming in as one of the top teams in the state.
The Cougar fans got their money’s worth and more, as the game went into overtime before Buchanan escaped Escalon with a win, taking a 41-40 decision, converting the extra point after an overtime touchdown to seal the victory.
“This was one of the best high school football games I’ve ever been a part of,” head coach Andrew Beam said.
The coach also pointed out that while most of the Escalon players go both ways, playing both offense and defense, none of the Buchanan players had to do that.
“Out guys were dead tired but they found a way to get back out there; they gave every ounce they had, left everything out there on the field,” Beam said, adding he couldn’t have been prouder of his team and was grateful to the community for making it a night to remember.
“It’s hard to explain what Ryker Peters has done these last two weeks,” he said of the workhorse, who had a record 30 carries on Friday night and added three more touchdowns for his team, along with playing solid defense.
“After the game, I had multiple Buchanan coaches, multiple coaches, come to me and say they had heard about our community, its love for football and they were so excited to come to Escalon for that,” Beam said, with the fan support very much in evidence that evening. “It’s just unlike anywhere else.”
Team captain Logan Anderson, who scored three touchdowns on the night, said it was important for his team to show the highly rated Bears that they weren’t going to just come in and steamroll the Cougars.
“We played a great game throughout all four-and-a-half quarters; our line played great tonight, we were missing one of our best players, Owen (Nash) and we had to face that adversity … at the end of the day we just couldn’t get it done,” Anderson said. “But I just know this is a group of boys that I want to carry out the season with, and I know we’re going to be playing a lot of football, hopefully in December, too.”
Fighting his own battles, shaking off an injury that would have kept many players on the sideline in the second half, captain Ryker Peters just used his pain to motivate him even more.
“I am so proud of our team; they were way bigger than us, they were faster than us,” Peters said of facing off with the Bears and giving them all they could handle. “I just wish we had had enough; I wish we had had enough.”
One of the Buchanan players admitted he had ‘enough’ of Peters, catching the eye of the powerful runner after the contest was over.
“Toughest back I have ever faced,” the Bear player told Peters.
Asking if Buchanan was expecting the game they got, Peters got his answer, as the Buchanan player admitted his team “no way” anticipated having to play as hard as they did to take down the Cougars.
“Tonight really proved to me and our coaches that this team has the capability to play in December and try to get a state championship,” Peters added.
For many, it comes down to the toughness, mental and physical, that the Cougars are known for.
“Every running back in the league, every running back in the state would have stayed in at halftime,” assistant coach Kyle ‘Frost’ Van Houten commented of Peters. “This kid walked out; I drove him out in a golf cart and he stopped me, he said ‘let me walk in, I’m not letting you drive me into this game’ … he’s a warrior.”
Nico Franzia had the only sack of the contest, coming in the fourth quarter.
“It felt great, it got the crowd going,” Franzia said. “Coaches are happy with us … we were just happy to get back in there and play smashmouth football, that’s how we do it.”
Tate Christensen said putting together the solid effort on Friday night was important.
“I think it just shows the character development in our program,” Christensen said. “We had a rough week last week … we didn’t know that (Reno) team, they didn’t know us and there was no respect, it was just a lack of respect and we need to build on that. We focused on that a lot at practice this week, so I think coming out here and playing this highly ranked of a team, this prestigious of an opponent, we did everything we practiced for, everything we hoped for, I can’t ask for a better game.”
Another player contributing on both sides of the ball was Jamin Miller, who said a key focus was making sure everyone stood up and took notice of what Escalon did on Friday night.
“Our main goal was to shock the state, play our hardest, do what we do best, just run the ball, do what we do,” Miller explained. “We didn’t come in expecting to get blown out like everyone else thought … we came in expecting to be some dogs and just run it down their throat and do our thing. I think if we can hang with this team, we can hang with any team. It boosts our confidence, even though the scoreboard says otherwise, I think it boosts our confidence for the rest of the league.”
Despite the loss, Escalon players – and their coaches – know they gave it all they had and just had to tip their cap to their opponent, one point better.
“Now what’s got me worried is the letdown,” head coach Beam admitted.
After such an emotionally exhausting contest, he needs his players to dig deep to get ready for the next opponent, the Windsor High Jaguars.
“We expended so much energy, so much focus,” the coach said of battling Buchanan. “Windsor is the reigning Division 3 North Coast Section Champion, they played in the D3 state bowl game; they are well coached and talented. We have to find a way to bring our ‘A’ game.”
The Friday night games - JV and varsity - will have their start times pushed back a half hour as a result of the anticipated high temperatures. JV will start at 5:30 p.m. with the varsity kickoff at 7:30 p.m.