After winning the coin toss and opting to kick off, Escalon held visiting Calaveras to a three and punt on the first possession of Friday night’s game at Engel Field.
Escalon then scored on their first possession – and the next three in succession – to advance in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI playoffs.
“Maybe one of our most complete games of the year,” head coach Andrew Beam said of the 39-15 victory on their home field. “I couldn’t be happier with the boys, all the distractions this week, with the playoffs, a home game, against a team you beat before … we knew we had to capitalize on our offensive chances.”
Defense wasn’t too much of a concern, as the Cougars have held opposing teams in check throughout the season. But offensively, the team was working with sophomore quarterback Ty Harris, moved up to varsity after the JV season ended and getting the playoff game start.
“Ty is an outstanding talent, he’s young without a lot of experience but what you saw was all the other guys take on the leadership role,” Beam explained.
The offensive line provided protection, the offensive weapons made the most of their opportunities and Harris was able to work well within the game plan, effective in his first varsity start.
On Friday night, after the quick three and punt by Calaveras, the Cougars went on a drive that ate up several minutes, cashing in on a 26-yard run by Kaden Christensen for the score. Guillermo Alvarez, returning from an injury, sent the extra point through for a 7-0 lead with 5:41 to play in the first quarter.
Calaveras, on their next possession, faced a fourth and short at the 38-yard line and went for it but was stopped by the Cougar defense.
Continuing a drive from late in the first quarter, Escalon scored just 28 seconds in to the second quarter, after some tough yards from Luke Anderson, it was Colton Panero going in from a yard out. The kick by Alvarez was good, making it 14-0.
Another huge defensive stand saw Calaveras held out of the end zone and Escalon driving nearly the length of the field on their possession, ultimately ending with a 39-yard field goal by Alvarez for a 17-0 lead with 2:28 to go in the first half.
“They were extremely focused,” Beam noted of his squad, which had a first round bye and seized the opportunity to get back on the field for the Nov. 9 contest.
Escalon got the ball to start the second half and Beam said the opening drive ate up a couple of minutes and resulted in another touchdown. Completed passes from Harris to Christensen and Kaidence Trejo set the Cougars up, Anderson scoring from a yard out. They went for the 2-point conversion but failed, yet extended the lead to 23-0.
It was time for the defense to shine again, stopping Calaveras on a fourth and four at midfield, but the Cougar possession this time would result in their first punt of the night, with just over six minutes to go in the third quarter.
The visitors fumbled the ball away on that possession, recovered by Jacob Walden, and the Cougars parlayed that into a 31-yard field goal by Alvarez to go up 26-9 with 3:16 to go in the third.
Helped out by a pass interference call, Calaveras finally found the end zone on their next possession, on a 43-yard touchdown pass play, and got the 2-point conversion to trim the lead to 26-8. They then tried an onside kick but it didn’t go 10 yards; the Cougars took possession and started another scoring drive.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Harris hit Panero with a 2-yard pass for the score, Jose Mendez getting in on the action and sending the point after attempt through for a 33-8 lead.
Frank Leal picked off a Calaveras pass on their next possession, setting up Escalon’s final touchdown of the night. Another completed pass to Trejo, a big run from Anderson and a 1-yard plunge from Panero made it 39-8. Mendez sent the extra point attempt wide left but the Cougars had a 31-point lead with 8:26 to go in the game.
After an exchange of punts, Calaveras found the end zone again, completing a scoring drive with a touchdown pass and the point after with 3:41 to play, making it 39-15.
Leading the defensive effort for the Cougars was Nash Satnat, who recorded 12 tackles on the night.
“We didn’t look to next week, we knew this was going to be a dog fight and we didn’t want to look past them,” Satnat said of respecting Calaveras and knowing they needed to be at the top of their game. “We just did what we do; do the job and if we do that, the game will take care of itself.”
He also pointed to the effort of sophomore Harris as being important, as the offense didn’t miss a beat.
“The team’s great, they all supported me and it was just amazing,” said a happy Harris following the contest. “I was nervous going in but once I got that first snap it was good.”
For Frank Leal, coming away with an interception, a handful of tackles and breaking up some pass attempts, the game was a good tune up for the semifinal round.
“It was great and it feels good, no one on this team has been past the second round so that’s exciting,” Leal said.
He added that facing off with Hilmar next week is something the Cougars are eager to do.
“We know what they’re doing, they know what we’re doing,” he said of the teams having faced each other before. “It will come down to who plays better.”
Jacob Walden agreed that the Cougars will have to be focused but also said they enjoyed savoring the Friday night win.
“First off, we had a great week of practice and we knew the defense had to do what we do,” he said. “Against Hilmar, we’ll have to keep our emotions in check.”
Escalon had 41 rushing plays for 223 yards and Harris completed 5-of-10 pass attempts for 88 yards and a touchdown. The Cougars had eight penalties on the night for 70 yards.
Calaveras ran the ball 41 times for 198 yards, completed 7-of-19 pass attempts for 99 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. They had five penalties for 45 yards.
Pacing the offensive attack for the Cougars were Luke Anderson, 11 carries for 84 yards with a touchdown; Colton Panero, 11 carries for 65 yards and two rushing touchdowns, along with a pass reception for a score; Kaden Christensen, eight carries for 59 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, Satnat had 12 tackles, Leal had an interception, Walden and Cole Gilbert each had a sack and Walden had a fumble recovery.
“Damien Tom and David Camacho also had a couple of big stops when we needed them and they just did a really nice job,” said Beam.
With the big lead, the team was able to get most of the players in to the contest, including a couple of late carries by freshman J.P. Lial and sophomore Shane Campbell.
Now it’s on to Hilmar, as the Yellowjackets won 44-7 over Amador in their Nov. 9 quarterfinal contest.
“It’s going to be a great atmosphere and another great game,” Beam said.
Hilmar got an overtime win early in the league schedule against Escalon at Engel Field, 20-17, and the Cougars are eager to return the favor.
“If we continue to play great defense and not turn the ball over, that should keep us in the game,” Beam noted.
Both squads come into the semifinal playoff game with 9-2 overall records and the Cougars and Yellowjackets tied at 4-2 in Trans-Valley League play. Hilmar went into the D-VI playoffs as the number two seed, Escalon was number three. In the other semifinal game on Nov. 16, top seed Modesto Christian will host number four Ripon Christian. The Crusaders defeated Argonaut 28-7 and Ripon Christian shut out Waterford 28-0 in Nov. 9 action.
Escalon, which lost to only Hilmar and Modesto Christian this season, is on what Beam and the Cougar coaches and players refer to as ‘redemption road’ and the journey continues on Friday night in Hilmar.
“It’s a game we’ve been wanting and looking forward to since we lost to them in overtime,” Beam said of the much anticipated rematch.