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Season's End: Cougars Bow Out At 11-3
One look at the Escalon High football players limping up to receive awards at the season-ending football banquet on Sunday told you one thing: they were more beat up than their head coach, who is due for hip replacement surgery in January.

Bruised, battered, but ultimately enjoying a hugely successful season, the 2012 varsity football Cougars compiled an 11-3 overall mark, finished second to Ripon in the Trans-Valley League, and finished as Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV runners up, falling to Central Catholic in the season finale. (See story, photos in Sports, page A15.)

For head coach Mark Loureiro, having hip replacement surgery is something he kept putting off, as his team kept finding a way to win games. He spoke of their dedication and their efforts at the Sunday banquet at El Portal Middle School, highlighting some of the accomplishments.

"This senior class, they were overachievers, they did things people said they couldn't do," Loureiro noted. "We graduated a lot of starters from last year's team and people wondered what we could do, would we make the playoffs?"

Escalon did more than just make the playoffs, hitting stride after a loss to Ripon to open the Trans-Valley League campaign, not losing again until the Dec. 1 showdown with Central Catholic.

The year saw the team make the playoffs with the number eight seed, hosting a first round game.

"I felt that was real important for our kids, to give these seniors a chance for one more home game," Loureiro said of the Nov. 9 game to open the playoffs, hosting Calaveras.

A win there put the Cougars on the road for the unenviable task of facing top ranked Placer in Auburn. A rainy night greeted the team and its well-traveled fans, taking on the Hillmen on Friday, Nov. 16. A field goal with two seconds to play in that contest lifted Escalon to a one-point win, propelling them to the semifinals.

That section semifinal game, on Nov. 23 at Los Banos, was a re-match of teams that faced each other in late August, in Week 0 of the season. Los Banos was the winner that time, by two points, but Escalon returned the favor with a four-overtime thriller, winning on the road by a 42-35 final.

The game not only put Escalon into the Section final, it also was milestone win No. 250 for Loureiro in his coaching career at EHS.

"What a better way to get 250, one you'll always remember," Loureiro said with a smile. "I didn't expect to get there this year, I really didn't anticipate this many wins."

The coach couldn't be happier for his team, however, and he praised the dedication the senior class showed in getting into the weight room last summer, stepping up to fill the void left by graduation. He challenged the junior class this year to do the same, urging them to be leaders for the squad next season as they prepare to do battle once again.

"You never know how fun it's going to be," Loureiro said of starting each year anew. "They've achieved so much, this group, it's unbelievable."