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Cougars Fall - Final Game Foe Central Too Tough To Conquer
Reaching the Section final, taking down two giants along the way, the third one proved to be too much of a formidable foe for the 2012 varsity football Cougars.

They lost in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV final on Saturday to powerhouse Central Catholic, 52-10.

With intermittent showers, followed alternately by sunshine and clouds, the Cougars were unable to stop the Raiders, who loaded up this year in hopes of avenging their past two season-ending losses, both in the playoffs at the hands of the Cougars.

"They were loaded for bear," agreed Escalon head coach Mark Loureiro, who nonetheless guided his team to a remarkable 11-3 season and earned his 250th career victory on Nov. 23.

Central Catholic came in on the softer side of the D-IV bracket and the Raiders were the number six seed to Escalon's number eight. The Cougars battled Calaveras in a home game, traveled to take down the top seeded Placer Hillmen and then outlasted host Los Banos in a four overtime thriller in the semifinals to reach the Saturday, Dec. 1 title game at Lincoln High School in Stockton.

"There's no doubt, our kids were dead tired, you could see it in practice during the week," said Loureiro. "Not to make any excuses, but we were coming off two big emotional wins and Central was just better than us in many of the positions. Once they got on a roll, there just wasn't a way to stop them."

Central head coach Roger Canepa said this is the best team Central has put on the field in several years, especially with the addition of transfer Rey Vega, coming in from Davis and sitting out the first half of the season, becoming eligible midway through.

"You've got a great running back with fresh legs," Loureiro said of the player giving the Raiders that extra dimension so needed in the playoffs.

Having already been the underdog twice this postseason, the Cougars were ready for the challenge and in fact, got on the board first on Saturday. After winning the toss and deferring, an onside kick by Thomas Diniz to start the game took the Raiders by surprise and it bounced around, glancing off a few players before Justin Camara pounced on for the Cougars. That gave Escalon the ball at the 44-yard line of the Raiders and quarterback Phillip Kimble linked up with Alec VonAlvensleben for a quick pass to the 11-yard line on the first play from scrimmage. A short run by Nathan Chunn, a rush by Robbie Steves and then an incomplete pass to Andrew Zavala put the Cougars at fourth and 5. Diniz came on to kick the27-yard field goal to make it 3-0 Escalon with 10:31 to play in the first quarter.

Within two minutes, the Raiders went on top, after a big run and a 54-yard touchdown pass. The point after was good to make it 7-3 Central.

With a minute left in the first quarter, Vega went on a shredding run up the middle for a score from 26 yards out, the kick was good for a 14-3 lead.

Second quarter action saw the Cougars go on a drive, aided by a couple of Central penalties, culminating in a score. It was again Chunn who had the ball and took it up the middle for some tough yardage on the drive, then Kimble scrambling on a second and seven before finding Jason Robbins for a 7-yard scoring strike. The point after attempt was good and the Cougars got to within 14-10 with 9:38 to go in the second quarter.

Unfortunately for Escalon, that was as close as they would get, and the Raiders got back into the end zone with 8:02 to play in the quarter on a 3-yard rush by Ray Lomas, jumping out to a 21-10 lead.

After that, it was all Central, leading 24-10 at the half, 45-10 after three and the final of 52-10.

Central keyed on Chunn, not allowing him to get much going in the rushing department, and Kimble was harassed all afternoon, having to scramble and throw on the run multiple times, still finding VonAlvensleben and Robbins for completions.

"In the locker room we talked about it, we would get the ball to start the second half," Loureiro said of going in down by two scores at halftime. "Our idea was to try to make something happen early, hang on to the ball, work the clock a little, but it went just the opposite, we went three and out."

Loureiro said his players showed plenty of heart and determination in continuing to battle on every snap, but just didn't have enough left in the tank to muster their way past Central.

A passing play of 41 yards and scoring runs of 55 (Vega), 5 (Lomas) and 83 yards (Vega) did the Cougars in during the second half.

"They capitalized on all our mistakes," Loureiro added of the Raiders gobbling up two Cougar fumbles and putting points on the board each time. "But you'd almost rather get beat like this than lose by a point or two and second guess everything you did."

Defensive leaders on the day for Escalon were senior Johnathon Costa with 12 tackles to his credit, junior Lance Davis with 10.

Chunn had 25 carries for 86 yards on the day, solidifying his spot as Escalon's all-time single season rushing leader with 2,240 yards and VonAlvensleben had nine catches for 95 yards.

Escalon ends the season with an 11-3 mark, second in the Trans-Valley League and as Section runner-up.

"All in all, we had a great season," Loureiro said. "Our kids, they were beat up and tired and there can only be one champion, at this point in the season, you've got to be lucky, you've got to be good, and you've got to play nearly perfect. That's what Central did and I don't see anybody stopping them if they keep playing like they are now."