An early lead did not hold up for the Escalon Cougars varsity football team on Friday night, Nov. 23.
Taking on Hilmar in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI semifinal game, the Cougars came out on the wrong end of the 28-18 score, ending their season short of a chance at the Section title. Hilmar and Ripon Christian will meet for the D-VI crown on Friday night, Nov. 30.
Escalon had a 7-0 lead at the half, found themselves down 14-7 early in the third quarter, then trailed 21-10 before battling back with a late touchdown and 2-point conversion to get within three points.
But Hilmar, playing in front of the home crowd and eager to return to their championship form of last season, tacked on a late score for a 28-21 win.
“Your resolve in not giving up, I’m proud of that,” first-year head coach Andrew Beam told his dejected players in the post-game huddle, noting many teams would have packed it in long before the Cougars did. “In tough games like this it’s the little mistakes that come back to haunt you.”
It was a battle and for some Cougars, the loss was hard to take, players meeting family and friends on the field following the game, sharing tears and hugs.
“We’ll battle to the end,” said team captain Nash Satnat, a senior who closed out his EHS career on the field at Hilmar. “It showed a lot of character, this was a selfless team.”
Satnat praised the efforts of his teammates and said they all fought for each other. As far as advice he would pass along to those coming up to be Cougars in the future?
“Seize the opportunities, learn from your mistakes, let them motivate you to get better.”
Fellow captain Frank Leal said while the team fell short of its blue banner goal, he was proud to have played with this group of Cougars.
“That’s just something about Escalon, we’ll never quit,” he said.
Junior Kaden Christensen said the underclassmen owe a huge debt of gratitude to those seniors who stepped up to lead them this year and he knows the ‘next generation’ will work hard to do them proud.
“They’re family forever,” he said of his teammates. “We definitely felt that bond, we never gave up on each other and we trust each other, through the good and the bad. I couldn’t be more proud of the fight, the nitty grittiness, we sacrificed for each other and it goes all the way down to everyone on this team, it was a complete team effort from the first guy on the roster to the last … it was definitely an experience I’ll never forget.”
Escalon went 4-2 in league play and finished the campaign at 9-3 overall, getting a playoff win at home against Calaveras before ending their season against Hilmar.
“You’re going to be handed a lot bigger defeats in life than Friday night football,” Beam summarized for his players. “You’re allowed to cry, you’re allowed to hurt … this one’s going to hurt. But this defeat, this will make you better. Keep your heads held high; you fought, you battled.”