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Yes, We Did! Escalon Claims State Football Championship
From the triple digits of mid-June's Wing T camp to the pouring rain of mid-December's football finale, the 2010 Escalon Cougars were a team of destiny, bringing home the California Interscholastic Federation Division III State Championship.

Against a highly touted Madison Warhawks team out of San Diego, the three touchdown-underdog Cougars turned the tables and floated off the field at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California with a 30-14 victory on a soggy Saturday afternoon, finishing the season at 14-1.

The raucous Cougar faithful rocked the stadium, their deafening roar far outshining the smaller Madison crowd, and the football team played off that energy, taking control of the contest with three touchdowns in the second quarter to take a 23-7 lead at the half. Back at home, most of the people that didn't make the five hour-plus trek south were watching the game live, at local establishments, in private homes and in 'Super Bowl' type gatherings that joined the community together.

For the players and coaches on the field, the final score was indicative of what this year's team so enjoyed doing - proving the naysayers wrong.

"It's amazing. No one expected us to do anything this year and now we're number one in the state for Division three and it's just crazy," said junior Tony Vincent. "We'd been praying for rain because they're (Madison) such a passing team and we just ran down their throats and just did what we needed to do."

A first quarter safety, three touchdowns in the second quarter to Madison's one and a trading of touchdowns in the fourth quarter propelled Escalon to the victory stand once again. Head coach Mark Loureiro said the community support was overwhelming, with people making donations to help with costs for the trip, along with giving the team a huge send off early Friday morning and an even bigger reception when the team bus pulled back into the school parking lot as champions on Saturday night.

"We were the tiniest town in this thing and we had the most support, that's a great thing to say for our community, people really came through ... they came out of the woodwork," said Loureiro. "When you get this kind of support from everybody, it gives you a lift. We knew it (crowd support) was coming, we just didn't know it was coming in droves."

Loureiro said they "brought the country to the city" and came away with the biggest prize of all, the state championship.

"This isn't just about this year's team," the coach added. "These boys, they were the chosen ones, they were the ones asked to deliver, but this is for 22 years of hard work, dedication from a lot of coaches and a lot of great players, for all those kids that have come through this program."

Loureiro told the team in the locker room that there were many players with them on the field, all those that have come before, all the number 58s of the past, all the number 16s, were there in spirit.

"Every kid who wore their jersey number, they were in their heart, they were in their mind," Loureiro said of the history that took the field with the players.

Adrian Cortes, who had a monstrous game on both sides of the ball, said adding the title 'state champions' to the list of achievements for the team this season is a sweet way to have it end.

"No one believed in us at first but I'm pretty sure we made believers out of everybody's just an awesome feeling," Cortes said

Junior quarterback Gino Franceschetti said Madison was definitely a good team, but the Cougars used the rainy conditions and their smashmouth style to come out on top.

"We had our hands full. We got the rain coming to us, gave us a little advantage but we had to fight through everything, all the hype about state and all, it's just crazy," Franceschetti said.

A hectic week of preparations, practice in the rain, an early morning departure on Friday - after finishing up final exams - all finally gave way to actually getting into the stadium on Saturday. Franceschetti said the huge crowd immediately gave the Cougars that extra burst of energy.

"It's a big boost," he agreed. "Once you heard the crowd, you start jumping around, you can't help yourself, you just have to do something."

That 'something' was taking what was supposed to be a three-touchdown deficit and turning it into a 16-point victory.

"We weren't satisfied at all just to make it down here and be done," said Victor Carrillo, one of the team captains this year. "Everyone says the South dominates in football ... we went out there and proved them wrong."

For senior Chad Hale, there was no better feeling than seeing that final score.

"Amazing, the most euphoric feeling ever," Hale said. "It's the best feeling right now. We just came together, we played our style of football and we just hit people. We just come and hit people hard and they're not ready for it."

There's talk of a parade being organized, Tony Victorino at Hula's wants to invite all players and coaches to come in for a free meal, and the pride of putting up a new 'State Champions' sign along Highway 120 is a feel-good story for the entire community.

Senior captain Brandon Shaw said even though they had a big lead at halftime, 23-7, their coaches kept them focused and made adjustments in the locker room to make sure the Cougars kept that advantage.

And for a team that spent time in the weight room over the summer and came together with a renewed mission and purpose after losing their home opener to Patterson back in mid-September, playing football until the middle of December couldn't have had a happier ending. Shaw admitted making it to the State Championship wasn't really on the radar as the Cougars were grinding the way through a tough schedule.

"Not in my wildest dreams," Shaw said of wrapping up the season hoisting a State Championship trophy. "I mean, this is more than a dream to me ... and I hope I don't wake up from this one."