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Section Title Game In Stockton Friday
Celebrating a touchdown in the end zone are Jamin Miller, left, who pulled in the TD pass, and teammate Josh Graham. The two combined for five touchdowns in a 48-28 Escalon win in the section semifinal on Nov. 17. Marg Jackson/The Times

It’s familiar territory.

But each time is different and this year, the Escalon Cougars will need to have their best game of the season if they want to hoist a Section banner.

The varsity football team will play Friday night, Nov. 24 at St. Mary’s High School in Stockton, battling the Patterson Tigers for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 title.

Escalon, defending Section champion in Division 5, was moved up to Division 4 this year and earned the top seed in the division. They also won the Trans-Valley League title with a 5-0 run through the always tough TVL and compiled a 9-1 overall record prior to the postseason action. Their only loss was to California High School in preseason play.

After a first-round bye, Escalon took a quarterfinal win over the Sacramento Dragons, 57-32, and a semifinal win over the West Park (Roseville) Panthers, 48-28 on Nov. 17, playing both games at Engel Field.

Patterson, which finished second in the CCC to Merced, entered the playoffs as the number three seed and, like Escalon, had a first-round bye. They got wins against number six seed Kimball, 40-7, in the quarterfinals at home and upended number two Vista del Lago in the semifinals on the road, 28-19, on Nov. 17. Many had picked Vista del Lago to win the Section crown.

The Cougars and Tigers used to be rivals in the Trans-Valley League, before Patterson was moved due to realignment.

“The last time we played them was in 2017,” varsity head coach Andrew Beam said. “But this will be the 85th matchup between these two teams so this is an old school TVL rivalry; a lot of the people in our stands remember some of those wars with Patterson.”

Getting the win against West Park was satisfying, noted junior offensive/defensive lineman Trent Powell, but he – like his teammates – is eager for more.

“It’s a pretty cool feeling, seeing that we’re going to go to Sections and make it another week,” Powell explained. “It just feels so cool to see our seniors so excited to get another chance to play; you don’t have that many games left and you just appreciate every game you get, especially in playoffs.”

He also said making the adjustment, moving up to Division 4 from Division 5, is something the team now feels comfortable about.

“It’s just a different level of football that we have to adjust to and now with two games under our belt in D4, I think we can get them,” Powell said of facing Patterson for the title.

The Tigers, Beam emphasized, will “pose some very different challenges” than the Cougars have seen this season.

“They are big, physical and athletic,” the coach said. “That’s the biggest challenge.”

Patterson is also very familiar with Escalon’s offensive attack.

“The Patterson head coach, Rob Cozart, has seen the Wing-T, he has coached against the Wing-T and their team has skill and size everywhere,” Beam said.

For Escalon, the focus will be on keeping mistakes to a minimum, doubling down on what they do well on both sides of the ball, and trying to keep the explosive Tigers from getting much going offensively.

“Their quarterback is lighting fast, they have a running back who has a different gear and their top receiver is the nephew of the head coach,” Beam said of some of the top Patterson weapons.

He said the fact that the game is in Stockton – as opposed to other Section title games taking the field at Hughes Stadium in Sacramento – should mean a full house on Friday night, as Patterson and Escalon fans are likely to turn out in force.

Escalon, as the top seed, gets the home team side at St. Mary’s.

“I don’t know the feeling of losing and I don’t want to know the feeling of losing a Section title so we’ve got to work this week,” said three-year varsity starter Donovan Rozevink, the Cougar quarterback who won Section titles in his sophomore and junior seasons and goes for the three-peat on Friday. “Patterson is a good team; they used to be our rival back in the day so it’ll be good playing them.”

They don’t know too much about the Tigers, Rozevink added, as they stayed focused on the opponent in front of them each week instead of looking ahead.

“We’ll watch film … it’ll be good to have the week off of school and just focus on just football,” Rozevink said.

Ticket sales are through GoFan only and the gates for the 7 p.m. kickoff will open an hour ahead of the contest.

Beam said the Tigers, who haven’t been in a Section title game for well over a decade, will be hungry and would like nothing better than to grab the crown at the expense of a former league rival.

“You will have two 11-1 teams going at it, that is pretty crazy,” Beam said.

Escalon will be playing in its 18th Section title game.

“We hope people in the community have a great Thanksgiving,” the coach noted, “and then we hope they come out and support us in Stockton because we need our fans out there for us.”