Taking a commanding 28-7 lead, Escalon looked like it was going to cruise to a big win on Friday night.
Host Hughson had other ideas.
The Huskies just wouldn’t go away, coming up with a few big pass plays when they needed them and never letting Escalon breathe a true sigh of relief until the final horn sounded.
The final was 41-26 so the Cougars were a couple of touchdowns better, they just couldn’t shut the door as firmly as they wanted.
“We were so close to finishing,” agreed head coach Andrew Beam. “We just wanted to get one more score.”
The coach said that Hughson did keep battling and though he was hoping for that finishing touchdown when the Cougars went up 41-13, they didn’t get back in the end zone again while Hughson found it a couple more times.
“It was a weird game,” said Beam. “You never felt like it was in jeopardy but you never felt real comfortable, either.”
Escalon scored two touchdowns in the first, two in the second, and two in the third – with one mixed extra point – while Hughson got one touchdown in the second, one in the third and two in the fourth.
The Cougars, with the win, crafted a 4-2 TVL record and their only losses were to Modesto Christian and Hilmar, coming by a combined four points. With four wins in preseason, the Cougars went 8-2 under first year varsity head coach Beam.
And though he would have liked an easier win on Friday night, he knows that the season has been an emotional one for his team.
“We put so much into that Ripon game, I think we had a little bit of an emotional hangover,” the coach explained.
Escalon won big over the rival Indians, 38-7, on Homecoming and were likely still feeling some of the effects of that. Ripon, meanwhile, took down Modesto Christian – handing the Crusaders their only league loss of the season – in the regular season finale on Friday night, winning on a field goal in the closing seconds.
That put Modesto Christian and Ripon into a first place tie for league, while Escalon and Hilmar tied for third.
On Friday night at Hughson, Kaden Christensen got the scoring party started on a rushing touchdown from about 15 yards out, Ricky Erazo came on for the extra point and sent it through for the 7-0 lead. Erazo took over this week for Jose Mendez, who is nursing an injury and sat out in hopes of being back for the playoffs.
Later in the first quarter it was a 67-yard run by Christensen and the kick by Erazo to make it 14-0.
Second quarter scoring saw a one-yard plunge by Luke Anderson, kick good, to make it 21-0. A 47-yard run by Colton Panero was key in the scoring drive.
After a trading of punts, Hughson found the end zone and made the kick with 2:53 left in the first half, trimming the lead to 21-7.
But Escalon answered back, Panero getting the call on the first play from scrimmage after the kickoff return, following a huge block from Devin Roberson to shoot through and go 62 yards for the score. With the kick by Erazo, Escalon had a 28-7 lead.
Escalon got the ball to start the second half but turned the ball over on downs and Hughson quickly turned that into points, connecting on a pass play but missing the kick, cutting the deficit to 28-13 with 9:38 to go in third.
The Cougars got the touchdown back on their next possession, Panero taking it in and Erazo adding the kick for a35-13 lead.
Then it was Christensen’s turn again, after the Huskies had a quick possession, Christensen scored with 6:18 to play. The kick was blocked but the Cougars went up 41-13.
Again, the Huskies kept the pressure on and scored with 11:18 to go in the game, making it 41-20.
After a Frank Leal interception stopped a Hughson drive, Escalon returned the favor on a fumble and the Huskies converted on that chance, scoring with 4:12 to go. The snap on the extra point was bad and there was no kick, leaving the score at 41-26.
They then attempted the onside kick but it did not go the required 10 yards and the Cougars were able to take possession and get a couple of first downs, effectively running out the clock.
“It was the longest game ever,” said a happy but tired David Camacho, as the contest didn’t wrap up until about 10:30 p.m.
Part of that was the Senior Night festivities for Hughson and part of that was the constant pass attempts by the Huskies that resulted in stoppage of the clock for those that fell incomplete.
“We thought we had it in the bag,” Camacho admitted of the big 28-7 lead that saw the Cougars relax a bit. “But now it’s the playoffs … we definitely want our revenge.”
The Cougars are in the same division as both Hilmar and Modesto Christian for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division playoffs.
Leal, one of the team captains, agreed that the team needed a little more intensity against Hughson.
“We definitely lost focus, we let their talking get to us, we were doing more talking than playing,” Leal said.
But they’ll take the win, watch the film and work on fixing those mistakes that they don’t want to make in the playoffs.
“I think we have a lot of work to do,” admitted junior Kaidence Trejo, who celebrated his birthday on Friday night with the win. “As a team, we want to come back strong.”
Beam said the team’s rushing attack was in top form on Friday night, with the Cougars rushing 55 times for 548 yards.
“Kaden had a huge night, rushing 18 times for 273 yards and three touchdowns,” Beam said. “Colton had nine carries for 187 yards and two touchdowns, Luke had 14 carries for 72 yards and a touchdown.”
The passing game was tough, with the field a little slippery and the ball a little wet, Lucciano Dutra completed just two passes for 12 yards.
“It was just an unbelievable night of running,” Beam said. “The offensive line got a good push on Hughson.”
The Huskies threw the ball 43 times and most of those were “jump balls,” Beam said, with the Huskies outleaping the Cougars on those passes they did pull down.
“They ran 67 plays, we ran 70,” the coach added.
Leal had an interception for the Cougars, while Anderson, Jacob Walden and Cole Gilbert each had sacks and Nash Satnat had nine tackles.
Senior Jose Valladolid got the first start of his varsity career at tackle and made his presence known.
“We were really happy with how well he did,” Beam said, “now we know he can step in give some guys a break.”
Escalon heads into the playoffs as the No. 3 seed in Division VI, behind No. 1 Modesto Christian and Mo. 2 Hilmar. All three teams, as well as No. 4 Ripon Christian, get a first week bye. Escalon will host the winner of the No. 6 Calaveras – No. 11 Highlands game on Friday, Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. at Engel Field.
“We’re going to spend this week getting ready, take advantage of the extra week we have,” Beam said.
Many will also head to Calaveras on Friday night, Nov. 2 to watch that opening round game.
“This is a redemption road, for sure,” Beam said. “The nice thing is there are no surprises and there’s no need for motivation.”
If Escalon and Hilmar each win their first round games, they will face off against each other in Hilmar on Nov. 16.
The Cougars could also see Modesto Christian, which is on the opposite side of the bracket, again – if both teams make it all the way to the Section final, scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 24.