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A Giant Win - Underdog Cougars Take Down Top Ranked Hillmen
Placer may not have overlooked Escalon ... but they probably didn't expect to be the ones cleaning out their lockers after Friday night's game, either.

The top ranked Placer Hillmen, rolling in with a record of 11-0 on the season and holding the number one seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs, hosted the 9-2 Escalon Cougars (No. 8 seed) on Nov. 16. Most experts predicted the game would be a good tune up for the Hillmen as they marched toward a near-certain Section banner, while it would be a tough but honorable way for the Cougars to end their 2012 campaign.

But experts are sometimes wrong.

And the Cougars will play football after Thanksgiving.

In the battle of David vs. Goliath, Escalon's David took their collective slingshot and used all their weapons to defeat the Goliath of Division IV, the Placer Hillmen.

With just two seconds to go on Friday night, the Cougars lined up for a 24-yard field goal attempt and though Thomas Diniz got under it a little - his plant foot slipped on the wet grass - he had enough leg to send the ball skidding through the uprights for a 27-26 Escalon victory. It sent the Cougar players, coaches, cheerleaders and fans into pandemonium, everyone rushing on to the field to join the celebration while the stunned Placer crowd could only watch as their players walked dejectedly to their sideline for one final time this season.

"The vast majority of people didn't think we could survive that game," Escalon head coach Mark Loureiro admitted. "That was a big statement by our kids and when you go over that game statistically, we dominated that team defensively and we moved the ball ourselves."

Escalon played an "excellent football game," said Loureiro, with 305 total yards of offense to the 179 by Placer. Escalon had 12 first downs on the night, Placer had four.

Rain fell intermittently throughout the contest, starting with a heavy rain at kickoff and alternately subsiding and coming back with a vengeance. Still, the field conditions stayed fairly steady and a new, dry ball was sent out for each play in a series, not allowing the weather to affect the outcome.

"We survived some disastrous things," Loureiro said.

Placer, in fact, scored off a couple of Escalon miscues early, turning an interception into points and also taking advantage of a 3-yard punt. Without those errors, the Hillmen wouldn't have had as many points as they did.

Escalon got on the board first, Robbie Steves taking down a Placer player in the end zone with 7:07 to play in the first quarter, getting 2 points for the safety. Four minutes later, the Cougars used a fumble recovery by Lance Davis to put more points on the board, Nathan Chunn going in on an 11-yard draw play for the touchdown. Thomas Diniz added the point after and it was 9-0 Cougars with 3:02 to play in the opening frame.

"Placer came right back after the kickoff, and scored on a 65-yard counter play, their kick was good and that made it 9-7," coach Loureiro explained.

In the second quarter, the home team took the lead, scoring on a 59-yard run and adding the point after for a 14-9 advantage with 8:19 left in the half.

On Escalon's next possession, they got the points back and it looked as if the teams were going to be trading scores all night. A nice kickoff return by Josh Redding gave way to a short gain by Chunn and then the senior broke free for a 68-yard run off right tackle, rumbling to the end zone. The Cougars went for the 2-point conversion, quarterback Phillip Kimble rolling out to find Andrew Zavala in the end zone and putting it between the numbers, giving Escalon a 17-14 lead with 7:11 to go.

Placer was ready to settle for a field goal attempt to tie it up on their next possession but a 'hurdling' penalty on the Cougars on the kick gave the Hillmen a fresh set of downs and 15 yards in their favor. But they couldn't capitalize and the Cougars got the ball back. They also stalled and had to punt. This time, the normally sure-footed Alec VonAlvensleben had some difficulty and the kick was high - but nearly straight up - and netted just 3 yards, putting Placer in great field position. They took advantage of the late second quarter opportunity and put one more score on the board before halftime, going in on a 1-yard run and adding the point after with just under a minute to play, leading 21-17.

Escalon went in at the half feeling good about the effort, Loureiro said, but knowing they had to do better in the second half.

"We talked about it in the locker room, talked about how important it was to come out and have a strong third quarter," said Loureiro.

Placer, however, managed to have the upper hand in that frame as well, tacking on a safety on a bad snap to the Cougar punter that went out of the end zone to make it 23-17 Hillmen, and then putting a field goal on the board to make it 26-17.

The field goal was a victory of sorts in the game, after a Placer interception stopped a Cougar drive. A touchdown-saving move by Chunn, pushing the player out of bounds, kept the Hillmen from the end zone on the interception return and though they got it to the Cougar 4-yard line on the return, the defense held them to just three points on the field goal.

"They did that with about four minutes to go in the third quarter," Loureiro said of the Placer field goal to take the 9-point lead. "They only ran three more plays after that."

Those plays came in the fourth quarter, a three and out series, as the Cougars slowly and methodically moved the ball and worked the clock, maintaining possession for almost the entire fourth quarter, when they put 10 points on the board.

An 11-yard pass from Kimble to VonAlvensleben for the touchdown, extra point by Diniz, made it 26-24 with 4:54 to play in the game. Placer got the ball on the kickoff but was stopped near midfield and had to punt, Escalon taking over for its final game-winning possession at their own 22-yard line with 2:34 to go.

"Chunn and Jason Robbins converted on some big fourth down plays for us, Alec VonAlvensleben had three big catches for first downs, Andrew Zavala got a huge first down catch on a third and 12," Loureiro said of players contributing throughout the contest.

Placer also made a couple of costly errors, giving the Cougars yardage on personal fouls of roughing the passer and a late hit out of bounds on Zavala.

"We just got great efforts out of kids," Loureiro said. "Chunn got banged up all night long but he had 26 carries for 156 yards (two touchdowns), Phillip had some big plays down the stretch, he was 5-for-7 in the fourth quarter and was 8-for-15 for the game with 117 yards (one TD toss) and Alec had seven catches for 106 yards and a touchdown."

Defensively, Johnathon Costa was a monster, recording 10 tackles.

"He was in their backfield all night," Loureiro said of the senior. "Collin Strasser had six tackles and a sack, each week he just gets better, and our outside linebackers did a great job, Jason Robbins and Robbie Steves each had seven tackles."

Inside linebacker Lance Davis had seven tackles and a fumble recovery, while Joey Gutierrez and Alan Gonzales each had six tackles and both played offense and defense nearly all night long, coming up big on the offensive line.

"Everybody looks at that field goal for the win but there were a lot of plays that had to be made to get us there," Loureiro said.

On the pivotal kick, it was Zavala snapping the ball, Steves holding it and Diniz putting the kick through for the game-winning points.

Escalon had 12 first downs on the night to Placer's four and the Cougars had 42 rushing attempts for 188 yards, Placer had 33 rushes for 154 yards. Passing yardage, the Cougars amassed 117, Placer had just 25. The Hillmen were called for five penalties, 55 yards and the Cougars had three for 20.

"We gave up 124 of their yards on just two plays," Loureiro said.

Otherwise, the Cougar defense was stifling, swarming to the ball and stopping the Hillmen in their tracks.

Loureiro said the game could not have been won without the solid week of preparation leading up to it, and for that, he credited the Cougars' back-up players, who gave the starters plenty of competition.

"During the week, our second and third (string) kids gave us a great look in practice," Loureiro said of them being able to mimic the sets that Placer used in the game. "That gave us a live look at it; I think that gave us a real advantage going up there."