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Winning Effort, Sloppy Play Not Good Enough For EHS
Players stand at attention on the field in Merced during the National Anthem, as the Cougars traveled to take on Golden Valley to start the preseason. Escalon had a 20-0 lead and had to hold off a late charge by the home team to come away with the victory. Marg Jackson/The Times

Though they came away with a win, the 2023 Escalon varsity football Cougars know they got lucky. And they know they can’t play that way anymore.

Uncharacteristic sloppiness, four fumbles, some missed assignments and no converted points after touchdowns … not a recipe for success.

Escalon traveled to Golden Valley for the preseason opener on Friday, Aug. 18 and the final was 20-14 in favor of the visiting Cougars. (See game story, photos in Sports, Page A8.) The host Cougars made it interesting with two late scores but the defending state champion Escalon Cougars started the campaign with a victory.

“We shouldn’t be as complacent. I think we got a little bit too comfortable and that’s enough to have the other team get back in the ball game,” said senior and one of this year’s team captains, Jamin Miller. “We’re usually not like that but I think the first week jitters kind of got to us. It is what it is; we just have to fix it and come back better.”

Fellow captain Gio Chavez said the team has a lot to do to get ready for the next test, facing off against the Buchanan Bears in Clovis on Aug. 25.

“We need to change the way we play and the way we get to the ball,” he said simply. “Buchanan is a good team; I know this week there’s going to be a lot of focus, we need to be focused at practice and I know if we do that, we have a good chance of beating them.”

Quarterback Donovan Rozevink, a captain for the 2023 squad, said the team as whole has to be better moving forward.

“In the beginning we started out hot, our first drive was good but then we started playing down to their level,” Rozevink said of taking on Golden Valley. “We were missing blocks, couldn’t pick up the blitz … I was missing throws left and right so we just have to play better next week, obviously Buchanan is going to give us a run for our money so we’ve got to just pick it up. We’ve got to go hard this week and be ready for Buchanan. I have to be a team leader for everybody, me and all the captains have to be team leaders this year.”

Catching a pair of touchdowns, junior Sam Jimenez said it was good to get the win but there’s more work to be done.

“I think we just got ahead of ourselves, thought we had the game won with about two minutes left,” Jimenez pointed out. “We just have to keep it together, play a whole game. I thought we brought a lot of energy early in the game, I wish we had kept it through all four quarters.”

For Anthony Jones, who rounds out the four team captains for this season, he put the late scores by Golden Valley and the sloppy play down to first game jitters, and is expecting better efforts from here on out.

“We have a lot of new guys in new positions and I feel like overall we can improve everywhere, on the line, our backs and our defense,” Jones said.

Junior Ryan Lewis said the Cougars just have to move on, but learn from the mistakes made on Friday night.

“Next week, straight locked in,” he said. “We can’t mess around in practice, this is going to be the biggest game of the season, we just need to do everything right.”

Head coach Andrew Beam said he was glad to escape with the win, though watching the film wasn’t going to be much fun. However, he said, it would be a learning experience for all players.

“It’s going to be a big test,” Beam added of the long road trip to Clovis and the highly anticipated battle with Buchanan. “They are bigger and better on defense than they were last year; they play in a 10,000-seat Olympic trials stadium, it’s their first home game, it will be packed and loud.”

Last year, at Engel Field, the game went to overtime with Division I Buchanan getting a 41-40 win.

“I don’t think our guys are afraid of the challenge,” Beam said, noting that it will be a unique experience. “It’s just another caliber … we have to play a good, clean game.”

Kickoff is at 7 p.m. Friday.

Escalon’s Sam Jimenez, 5, goes up to pull in a pass as the Golden Valley defender tries to push him out of bounds on Friday night, Aug. 18. The catch was made for the touchdown, Jimenez scoring the first points of the night as Escalon held on for a 20-14 win on the road. Marg Jackson/The Times