In a career that has spanned nearly three decades coaching varsity football at Escalon High School, Mark Loureiro racked up 281 wins.
And for each win, each season, special memories are a part of the package.
The head coach stalked the sidelines in that role for the final time on Friday night, Nov. 17 as the Cougars hosted Hilmar in a semifinal match in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI football playoffs. For the Escalon squad, hopes of a Section title finish for their coach fell in a 41-38 final to the Yellowjackets. (See story, photos in Sports, Page A7.)
“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” Loureiro admitted of falling in what turned out to be the season and career finale.
After the Cougars got rolling this season, they claimed a share of the Trans-Valley League title for their coach, got back into the playoffs after an absence of two years and were hoping to take it all the way to the end. Instead, TVL rivals Hilmar and Modesto Christian will battle for the crown. Escalon beat both teams during the regular season.
Loureiro said though the game went down as a loss – bringing his final record to 281 wins, 69 losses and one tie – he couldn’t have been happier with the effort and determination from his team.
“This last one was one of the greats,” he said of the game.
But he admitted to feeling a bit lost afterward.
“It’s who I am, a coach,” he said. “You feel like a part of you died, leaving that field.”
Life will go on, though, as Loureiro looks to reconnect with family, enjoy time with grandkids and do whatever he wants on Friday nights.
He made sure, however, to leave no doubt that his 2017 Cougars hold a special place in his heart, addressing the team in the end zone following the loss.
“It’s a tough way to go out, for these seniors and myself,” he told the team. “It looked like those stars were going to align for us, but we just couldn’t make that big play. This is what championship football is about. This is why you play, this is why I coach.”
He praised the seniors – who came back after a lackluster junior year – for their leadership and dedication, setting the tone for those juniors who will come back to the gridiron next year.
“You can’t hang your head,” Loureiro added. “Losing sucks, it’s no good. But you should be proud of yourselves.”
As the team gathered in its post-game huddle, many of the players had difficulty keeping their emotions in check.
“It’s okay to hurt; it’s okay to cry. It’s okay because you care,” Loureiro told them. “Not enough people in this world care. Thanks for making this last year great for me. Thanks for being great men.”
He told the players to remember the accomplishments of the season and wished them well as they move in to another sport or just focus on their academics following the fall campaign.
And despite falling short of a Section title for his final season, Loureiro said he was certain the sun would rise tomorrow and he will get on with his day.
“It’s the end of an era, I guess,” he said of closing out a 29-year career at Engel Field. “Those boys fought to the death for me … as have all my teams. That’s all you can ask for.”