They made the most of what turned out to be the final game of the season.
Escalon’s varsity football Cougars – for the first time in years – did not get a spot in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs, but they put an exclamation point on their season with a resounding 38-14 win at Engel Field against Modesto Christian on Friday night.
Knowing they would be ‘on the bubble’ with a win and a 5-5 overall record, head coach Mark Loureiro said the team came out and played with drive, determination and heart, leaving it all on the field.
And even in victory, there were some tears shed as the final gun sounded, many seniors knowing it was likely their final game for the purple and gold.
Embracing on the sidelines, junior Blue Capps and senior Garrett Nebe displayed the camaraderie and chemistry of the Cougars, while other players shared handshakes and high fives.
The season finale also saw pre-game recognition for all senior players and cheerleaders, who were honored at midfield, escorted by an assortment of family members. The game also came on the heels of a last-second loss to rival Ripon the Friday before and Loureiro said he wasn’t sure how the players would respond this week. As it turned out, he needn’t have worried.
“What healed me,” Loureiro told his players in their postgame huddle on Friday, “was on Tuesday (Nov. 3) coming out and watching your faces at practice, your passion, your energy.”
What could have been a lackluster effort, with players still down about the heartbreaking defeat by the Indians, instead was a shining example of Cougar football at its best.
“You did your part tonight,” Loureiro added on Friday, noting that if the Cougars did get a playoff berth, they would be a tough team to handle in the postseason.
“If it doesn’t (happen), it wasn’t meant to be,” he said. “But you should be proud of yourselves.”
When the playoff pairings were announced on Saturday, Escalon was on the outside looking in. For the first time in a long time.
Senior Cameron Puthoff, a force on defense Friday night and returning an interception for the first touchdown of his career, praised the coaching staff.
“Our coaches put us in the right spots,” he said, adding that the finale will go down as his best game on the gridiron.
“We just wanted to leave it all out on the field,” added team captain and senior Dustin Lawrence. “The seniors stepped up, our juniors helped us. We wanted to leave the town with a win.”
Quarterback Dylan Azevedo, a junior, said the fact that it could have been their last game motivated the team.
“Our juniors wanted to send the seniors out with a win,” he said. “But we’re (juniors) pretty hungry for next season and to go back at it.”
And for senior Garrett Nebe, on a night when he recorded a sack and once again was the emotional motivator on the sidelines, the win is one he feels the team – and this year’s seniors – definitely deserved.
“We just wanted to do our job,” he said. “This was a great sendoff.”