Win number 280 came on Friday night.
Stepping on to the football sideline at Engel Field on Nov. 3, it was the final regular season home game for varsity football head coach Mark Loureiro.
His Cougars – and a supportive crowd – helped him make the most of the evening by winning the game against longtime rival Hughson, 48-0.
The win earned Escalon a share of this season’s Trams-Valley League title – tied at 4-1 with both Modesto Christian and Ripon – and also solidified a number two seed for the Cougars in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI playoffs, allowing them to host a game this Thursday night, Nov. 9.
The pomp and circumstance prior to the contest, however, was to celebrate Loureiro’s nearly three decade tenure at the helm of the varsity Cougars. He took over the program in 1989 and has now recorded 280 career victories with just 68 losses and one tie.
Public address announcer Greg Largent reeled off the litany of accomplishments, as a humble Loureiro stood on the field, surrounded by current and former players.
“He has led his Cougars to 25 C.I.F. playoff appearances, 14 TVL Titles, has won the Division 4 Section Title eight times, and his teams of 1993, 1996, and 2010 were crowned State Champions,” Largent announced. “Coach Mark Loureiro and the Escalon Cougars have the most successful football program in the Sac-Joaquin Section listing.”
Loureiro’s record, added Largent, “ranks him second to Coach Bob Ladouceur of DeLaSalle High in the entire State of California.”
Loureiro has been honored as State Coach of the Year two times, in 1993 and 2010.
Players from the past 29 seasons gathered on the field to honor their coach, who smiled at the memories and tried to keep his emotions in check as the reality of the situation began to sink in.
He stepped on the field as a ball boy for his father, Bob, when he was coaching the Cougars and moved through the ranks to become a stat keeper and then took the field as a player. Following college, he returned to teach and coach at EHS and took over the varsity program in 1989. He also has served for many years as the school’s Athletic Director.
For Loureiro, having Hughson come in for the regular season finale was fitting, as they are longtime rivals of the Cougars. The football team’s shutout win to celebrate both Senior Night and his pending retirement made it that much sweeter.
“I tell you what, I was speechless and that doesn’t happen very often,” Loureiro admitted following the ceremony.
The celebration also included recognition for Loureiro’s wife Lisa and their three children, along with two grandchildren that Loureiro will have more time for once the football season ends.
“We’re starting to peak at the right time,” the coach added after the game was in the win column on Friday night. “My final regular season game, I couldn’t ask for anything better. Things got more difficult as this week went on, more than I imagined, but I’m just trying to soak it all up.”
Friday evening’s festivities included the presentation of a special showpiece for Loureiro, a collection of three rings displayed under a glass dome, presented by his father. One is his high school ring, one is a state championship ring and one is a ring with a few numbers still to be determined – it will be engraved with his final numbers as a coach after the Cougars conclude the 2017 playoff run.
The coach has seen an estimated 1,500 players through the Cougar system during his tenure and has instilled the ‘Cougar Pride Never Dies’ mentality for years.
Other gifts were presented to the coach as well, and the long-time tri tip team of Lee, Rob and Keith Rigg were also saluted as they ‘retire’ from that task after years of grilling up the meat on Friday nights.
“I really just want to express all my appreciation for the support, to the administration, the fans, the kids, the ex-players, all the people that turned out and rolled behind this thing,” Loureiro said.
Now, the varsity squad heads to the second season and is looking for a deep run, hoping to keep their coach on the field for a few more games.
Largent was able to sum up the feel of the evening as the crowd showered Loureiro with applause.
“Coach Loureiro’s dedication and love for the Purple and Gold of Escalon High, its students and the people of the Escalon community have been the driving force behind his commitment to excellence,” Largent said. “Please know that you will be truly missed and always loved by the Purple and Gold of Escalon – you are the ultimate Cougar For Life.”