As a bright red sun set in the west, a nearly full moon – also glowing due to wildfire smoke impacting the state – rose above Engel Field in Escalon on Friday night, and the crowd filling the stands enjoyed the first fall football game on campus since 2019.
The 2020 fall season was lost to COVID, though the Cougars did get to play a few games in the pandemic-shortened ‘second season’ of the 2020-21 school year this past spring. However, with schools back to in-person instruction, the hope is that fall sports will be able to continue with their regular season schedules as well.
For those attending the Friday night, Aug. 20 football games in Escalon, it was a chance to cheer, see a Cougar victory, and gain a little sense of normalcy.
The game was with a longtime former rival, Linden, and both the JV and the varsity Cougar teams came away with wins over the visiting Lions.
There was plenty of pomp and circumstance to usher in the season, with the traditional breaking of the banner as the varsity team ran on to the field, the smell of barbecued tri-tip wafting up into the bleachers and the Cougar store open with plenty of merchandise including T-shirts, hats, sweatshirts and more.
After Escalon took the opening varsity kickoff and drove the length of the field in a little over six minutes, putting a touchdown and extra point on the board to take a 7-0 lead, they never trailed in the contest. The final score saw the home team come out on top by a 55-30 decision.
“There are no words to describe the feeling,” admitted junior Owen Nash, who pulled in eight catches on the night and scored a pair of touchdowns.
He added that the team will focus on improving their defense this week, as they were unhappy with allowing 30 points to Linden.
Still, it was an overall feeling of satisfaction as they got the opener in the books.
“I love football and I love seeing the house packed,” Nash said, thanking the fans for coming out to support the team.
Junior running back/defensive back Matthew Baptista was also analytical in the victory.
“We’ve just got to work on defense and get more solid,” he said. “But it felt good, our first game back officially, in two years.”
Last season did not include any playoffs or league championships; Escalon was not even considered to be in the Trans-Valley League for the spring season, moving in to the Valley Oak League for the brief schedule.
Sophomore Donovan Rozevink was under center for his first varsity start at quarterback on Friday.
“It makes me feel great,” he said of getting the win and completing 9-of-10 pass attempts. “But we have to work harder every day and get better.”
Running back Logan Anderson, a junior, had the team’s first touchdown of the season and rolled to 160 yards of offense and two scores himself on Friday night.
“I love running the ball, that’s the best part of the game for me,” he admitted. “But on defense, we were gassed; we fought hard but we’ve got to step up on defense now.”
Head coach Andrew Beam said there were some frustrating times during the game, when the team lost focus, but the overall outcome was one they were happy with, getting the win.
For senior Tyler Medina, he summed up the effort.
“I think we have a lot of work to do,” Medina said. “We played pretty good but we have to work harder to stop the run.”
As is customary, the Escalon American Legion Post presented the colors to start the game; the choir performed the National Anthem, the band was in the stands and there was a student cheering section that was loud throughout the night. The cheerleaders performed at halftime and on the sidelines during the game and after the victory, players and cheerleaders led the crowd in the singing of the Alma Mater to close out the successful evening.