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Cougars Top Ripon, Punch Ticket To Section Title Game
Defending Their House
In the end zone, Cougars EJ Lewis, back, and Logan Anderson go up for the pass as the Ripon player attempts to bat it away in Friday night action at Engel Field. Though this pass fell incomplete, the Cougars did take a 34-10 win over the Indians to advance to the Section title game on Nov. 27. Marg Jackson/The Times

If there was any doubt whose home Engel Field is, it was answered with an exclamation point on Friday night.

A published report circulating around the area during the week touted Ripon coaches and players indicating that Engel Field was becoming so familiar and comfortable – having played there two times previously this calendar year – that it was starting to feel like “home.”

That didn’t exactly sit well with the Cougars, who stepped up and made sure Ripon knew whose home Engel Field actually is, crafting a 34-10 victory in the Indians’ third visit to Engel Field on Nov. 19.

The win in the semifinal round puts Escalon into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 5 title game, where they will take on longtime Trans-Valley League rival Hilmar on Saturday night, Nov. 27. Game time is 6 p.m. at St. Mary’s High School in Stockton.

“What a night,” head coach Andrew Beam said of the win, the third time Escalon defeated Ripon during 2021; once last spring in the mini season for football; earlier this season in TVL play and Friday night in the semifinal. “Just unbelievably proud of our players and their effort. Their resiliency in answering both of Ripon’s scoring plays in the first half.”

Ripon won the toss and deferred, putting Escalon on offense first. That initial drive did see the Cougars get near midfield but they were forced to punt after a penalty and an incomplete pass made it a fourth and 10.The punt gave Ripon the ball at their own 32 and they worked the ball in to field goal range, connecting on a 22-yarder with 1:10 remaining in the first quarter to go up 3-0.

“Ripon came out fast, they were ready to rock and roll,” Beam noted.

Early in the second quarter, though, the Cougars got on the board as Logan Anderson pulled in the 20-yard pass from quarterback Donovan Rozevink for the touchdown and Alfonzo Gonzalez added the point after for a 7-3 Escalon lead with 9:37 to go in the first half.

After the squads traded possessions, Ripon capitalized on a low, bouncing punt, the ball carrier picking it up and breaking free for a 70-yard return for the score with a little over six minutes to go in the second quarter. Coaches, fans and players on the Escalon side all bemoaned a couple of non-calls on the play; a block in the back and a hold by Ripon, both of which cleared the way for the runner to get into the end zone. The kick was good and Ripon regained the lead at 10-7. Beam said film showed the penalty calls were missed, but praised his team for putting it behind them and moving on.

“Ripon’s energy was high and their crowd was loud,” Beam said as the visitors took the lead.

Defending their house, the Cougars answered on their next drive. Tyler Medina pulled in the short kickoff and returned the ball to the Escalon 44; Matthew Baptista carried the ball 12 yards for a first down and Ryker Peters then busted through the Indian defense for a 44-yard touchdown run. The kick was good and the Cougars were back on top, 14-10.

“That play to get us right back in the game, that was just huge for our team and our confidence,” Beam said. “Engel Field is our place. For someone else to say it was starting to feel like theirs, we felt betrayed.”

The Cougars used that betrayal to fuel their spark and they stuffed the Indians for the remainder of the first half while getting a late field goal to go up 17-10.

The drive looked like it might end with a touchdown, with some tough running by Peters and Matthew Baptista, along with a pass completion to Jamin Miller but a couple of penalties and incompletions forced the Cougars to settle for the 30-yard field goal from Gonzalez with 33 seconds to go in the half.

“At halftime, I had a bad feeling that maybe not getting the touchdown there to go up by two scores would come back to haunt us,” Beam admitted.

Baptista was also hurt on that drive and didn’t return for the second half; Beam said other players stepped up to fill the void, particularly JP Lial, Jamin Miller and Javier Gutierrez.

Ripon got the second half kickoff but the possession was short-lived; on a third and 7 near midfield, Tyler Medina stepped in front of the intended receiver and picked off the pass. That set up a possession for the home team that saw some big runs from Peters and a couple of carries by Anderson, ending with another field goal from Gonzalez, this time from 38 yards out, increasing the Escalon lead to 20-10 with 5:16 to go in the third.

“Our defense had only given up 50 total yards rushing in the first half so we knew we had to get a stop to start the third quarter,” Beam said of keeping the momentum. “We came out and it was an awesome second half; you saw the physicality of Escalon football.”

The Gonzalez 38-yarder would have been good from a few more yards if need be, and Beam said that was the beginning of the end for the Indians.

“Once we went up 20-10, there was no looking back,” said the coach.

The Cougars forced a turnover on downs on the next Ripon possession and converted that into a touchdown, the score coming early in the fourth on a 4-yard carry by Peters after a fingertip catch from Anderson to get them close to the end zone. The kick was good and it was 27-10 with 9:03 to go in the game.

“It was that touchdown where you just started to see that Ripon was starting to shut down,” said Beam. “Then Owen Nash pulled in a 56-yard touchdown pass from Donovan Rozevink to put the nail in the coffin.”

With the point after from Gonzalez, the Cougars had the margin of victory, 34-10, with 7:08 remaining.

Ripon’s next drive was stopped on an interception by Javier Gutierrez, sealing the deal.

“Late, we had a first and goal from the Ripon 2-yard line but we just kneeled it out and sent Ripon to their winter sports,” Beam said.

Key for the game, he added, was the fact that Escalon had no turnovers and forced two on the Ripon side. Rozevink was 7-for-14 for 158 yards and two touchdown tosses. Peters paced the running attack with 22 carries for 148 yards and two scores.

Gonzalez had two field goals and connected on four extra point attempts, getting the Cougars 10 points off his foot. Tyler Medina and Javier Gutierrez had the interceptions; Caden Gonsalves was again outstanding at middle linebacker with 10 tackles.

“Honestly, just Coach Beam telling us if we beat them it would be the third time in a calendar year and we would go undefeated this year against Ripon … last time we beat them and sent them home was 1993 and that’s all we thought about this whole week, that’s what we prepared for, to beat them,” said sophomore quarterback Rozevink, the team learning the history of the Escalon-Ripon rivalry that started long before they were born.

While admitting that defeating Ripon was a satisfying win, Rozevink was quick to point out that “the job’s not finished” and they need to stay focused.

“We’ve got to prepare for Hilmar, they’re a good team and I can’t wait,” he said. “It’s Hilmar so we’ve got to go out there and give it our all.”

Game time is 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 27 at St. Mary’s High School in Stockton. Winner brings home the Section 5 blue banner.

Senior Caden Gonsalves, 30, was a standout on defense in Friday night’s semifinal victory over Ripon, accounting for 10 tackles on the night, pushing him past the 100 tackle mark for the season. Marg Jackson/The Times