Two fourth quarter touchdowns – including one with just over 30 seconds left in the game – lifted Escalon to a 35-34 victory over Sonora in Saturday night’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division 5 football championship game. The Nov. 26 contest was at St. Mary’s High School in Stockton and had the feel of a heavyweight boxing match, the teams going toe-to-toe for four quarters of hard hitting football.
Sonora, the No. 2 seed, left Escalon the slightest opening when they had a bad snap on the extra point attempt on their go-ahead score in the fourth quarter, taking a 34-28 lead with 2:38 to play. Escalon, the No. 5 seed, put together what proved to be the game-winning drive in that final two-plus minutes. The Cougars overcame a dropped pass and two penalties on the drive, with a couple of big pass completions from Donovan Rozevink to Owen Nash and Logan Anderson and a crucial first down run by Ryker Peters on a third and three keeping the drive alive.
The winning touchdown came on a familiar tandem, Rozevink finding Nash near the back of the end zone and the senior receiver getting up over the top of the Wildcats defense, pulling down the pass and getting both feet in bounds. A clutch extra point from Talan Reider – who hit all five of them on the night for Escalon – gave the Cougars the lead, 35-34.
Then the defense kept the Wildcats contained, allowing one first down on the next Sonora possession but time expiring in the contest with the Wildcats throwing an incomplete pass on the final play of the game.
The sidelines and the Cougar fans in the stands erupted as the seconds ticked off, the Cougars capping what has been a roller coaster season with the blue banner, their third straight Section title, winning in 2019, 2021 and 2022. There were no playoffs in the 2020 COVID year.
“It’s hard, you find out it’s hard,” head coach Andrew Beam said of bringing the Section title home once again. “None of them are ever the same, that’s what we’re finding out; this one just feels extra special because of the peaks and valleys of this year.”
And there were peaks and valleys in the game itself, an interception against the Cougars cutting short a drive and Sonora turning the turnover into a touchdown of their own one of the valleys; a pick-six by Escalon’s Logan Anderson that tied the game in the fourth one of the peaks.
Look for the full story, photos and reaction from the players plus more analysis with coach Beam in the Nov. 30 issue of The Times.