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Crusaders Top Cougars In Battle Of Unbeatens
Modesto Christian played a nearly flawless game.

Escalon did not.

And that made all the difference in a 21-16 Cougar loss to the undefeated Crusaders on Friday night.

Modesto Christian claimed the league crown with the win, taking it away from defending champion Escalon while giving the Cougars their first loss of the 2009 campaign.

"We shot ourselves in the foot so many times," Escalon head coach Mark Loureiro said. "They (Modesto Christian) played a near perfect game, they made the big plays when they had to.

"They converted 11 out of 13 times on third down and were 2-for-2 on fourth downs, those are numbers that just kill you."

As primed and ready as they could be on their home stage, Modesto Christian served notice early that they would be a force. After the kickoff by Jason Diniz went into the end zone and came back for a Crusader start on the 20-yard line, they used a combination of running and passing plays, with Dustin Hayes finding receiver Raymond Nelson on a 45-yard reverse pass play that went to the end zone for a touchdown with 9:50 to play in the first quarter. The kick was good for the early MC lead.

Escalon seemed poised to answer back, getting a 46-yard run from Diniz and 14 yards by Josh Miguel on their first drive. With a fourth down and goal at the 3, the Cougars jumped offsides and had to settle for the field goal attempt. Diniz put it through to cut the lead to 7-3 with 6:29 to play in the quarter.

On MC's next possession, the Cougars picked off a pass for the interception but the call was negated on an Escalon roughing the passer penalty, turning the ball back over to the Crusaders. They held the ball into the second quarter and, looking at a fourth and 24, quarterback Isaiah Burse found Nelson for another touchdown, making it 14-3.

Escalon got a touchdown run from Josh Miguel on its next possession, but the score was negated on an illegal block call.

Second half action saw the Cougars get the kickoff but forced to punt and MC capitalized with a huge run by Burse and then a pitch to Aaron Brown, who found the end zone. It was 21-3 after the kick, with 6:50 to play in the third.

Cougar quarterback Spencer Franceschetti found Nick Largent with a pass over the middle and Miguel then ran one in for a touchdown with 2:15 in the third. The kick was good to make it 21-10.

The Crusaders stalled on their next drive and Escalon had the ball at the 36, with runs by Steve Silva, a pass completion to James Hill and another to Miguel set up the Cougars. Diniz bullied his way close to the goal line and then Silva took one in, trimming the lead to 21-16 with 6:24 to play. The Cougars went for 2 but failed.

On the ensuing kickoff, Burse fumbled the ball away on the return and Steven Martinez recovered it for the Cougars, giving them the chance for the go ahead touchdown. But a 'hurry up' offense that saw the Cougars try a couple of rushes and an incomplete pass ended with a quarterback sack and the home team took over on downs with 4:54 to play and ran out the clock, keeping the ball away from the Cougars.

"Our late hit on their quarterback kept a drive going, getting that one touchdown called back was terrible," Loureiro said. "We overcame all those things and we were still in it ... we broke down on a couple of blocking assignments and coverage. When two good teams play, the team that does the little things right will win."

Modesto Christian did all the little - and big - things right.

Leading rusher for Escalon was Diniz, 12 carries for 73 yards. Silva had 14 carries for 66, Miguel 10-for-46. Receptions were by Miguel, 2-for-37; Hill, 2-for-29 and Largent, 2-for-26.

Defensively, Largent had 11 tackles, Derrick DeFreitas had 10, with Travis Cardoza recording a sack. Brandon Shaw had an interception and Martinez added the fumble recovery.

"This game made us better," Loureiro said. "It's been a long time since we've been hit that hard and you get into some bad habits.

"This will allow us to get re-focused."

The Cougars go to Ripon on Friday night for the regular season finale.