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Escalon Gridders Overpower Pioneer In First Round, 47-0
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Bouncing back with a powerful effort, Escalon's varsity football Cougars roared through the first round of the playoffs, shutting out an overmatched Pioneer Patriots team Friday night in Woodland.

Battling a stiff wind and feet-numbing cold temperatures, the Cougars stepped up with their best game in weeks, taking the contest by a 47-0 decision.

"We controlled both lines of scrimmage all night long," said coach Mark Loureiro. "The offensive line got a major push, we were real happy with Mike Sawyer, Jake Brown, Anthony Oste, Frank Kaech, Steve Gentry, Anthony Suniga and Justin Kelly."

Pioneer, which took first place in the Golden Empire League, was hosting its first-ever playoff game but could not do anything with the Cougars. The game was at Woodland High School, which serves as home field for Pioneer, a school that does not have a stadium. The Escalon crowd - though bundled up and huddled together against the cold - made plenty of noise for the visiting Cougars.

The first good sign of the night came on the coin toss, which Escalon won, and promptly deferred, kicking off to Pioneer to start the game. The Patriots did get a first down on their first possession of the night, but it came on a pass interference penalty. They couldn't move the chains on their own in the next series, punting the ball away. Escalon returned the favor by going a quick three and punt and then it was Pioneer's turn, the Patriots also going thee and punt.

It was then that the ground game came alive for Escalon, sparked by the running of Gustavo Arzac and Jason Chandley. A huge run by Chandley for a first down was followed by three successive handoffs from quarterback Andrew Beam to Arzac, the first for a 20-yard gain, the second for 10 more and then a 3-yard plunge into the end zone for the first score of the night with 2:07 to play in the first quarter. Chris Diniz tacked on the point after for the 7-0 lead.

It didn't take the Cougars long to find the end zone again, holding Pioneer to another three and punt sequence as the second quarter began. Travis Hooks made a nice return on the punt to put the Cougars at midfield, then Jordan Ramirez got the call and broke free for a big run, taking it about 20 yards up the field. Arzac went up the middle for a big gain on the next play, then took the ball again and went in on an 8-yard run for the score. This time, the kick from Diniz was blocked but it was 13-0 Escalon with 9:56 to play in the first half.

The host Pioneer squad, which came in averaging 450 yards and 33 points per game during the regular season, was held to less than 100 yards by the Cougar defense.

"We looked like the Cougars of old," agreed Loureiro.

The disparity between the leagues was also front and center, with the Cougars of the Trans-Valley League asserting their superiority over the Golden Empire League Patriots.

"Traditionally, the TVL has been stronger and we've proven that again," said Loureiro.

Pioneer coughed up the ball as the second quarter continued, Travis Hooks recovering the ball to set up another Cougar score. Jason Chandley caught the ball in the end zone on a 10-yard pass from Beam, the only completion of the night. The kick was good and it was 20-0 with 1:02 to play in the half.

Beam attempted only two passes on the night, partly because of the windy conditions and partly because of the success of the running game.

"There's no need to throw when you're getting eight, nine yards a carry," Loureiro said.

The Cougars went into the locker room with the 20-0 lead and came out even more determined in the second half, putting four more scores on the board before the night was over.

Arzac intercepted a Pioneer pass on the first possession of the second half for the host team and the Cougars made it pay off. Justin Chandley had a big first down carry and, after a touchdown by Arzac was called back on a holding penalty, Marcus Savage got the call and took three defenders into the end zone with him for a score with 6:25 to play in the third quarter. Diniz added the kick, 27-0 Escalon.

A clipping penalty against Pioneer on the ensuing kickoff pinned the host squad at the 9-yard line and they went nowhere, punting it away and Escalon getting good field position. Savage made a first down carry on the first play from scrimmage, Arzac went up the middle for a few, then Ramirez broke a run to the 1-yard line to set up a score. Arzac took it in on the next play and the point after attempt went wide, making it 33-0 with 3:41 to play in the third. The defense again held Pioneer to a three and punt, the Cougars again scored on their possession, Savage running it in with 39 seconds left on the clock in the quarter. Diniz added the kick for a 40-0 lead.

The officials opted to go with a running clock in the fourth quarter and Pioneer did use one trick play, a fake punt, to get a first down as the quarter opened. They couldn't do much with it, however, the Cougars taking over on downs after the series.

Final score of the night for the Cougars came on an explosive 68-yard run from Hooks with 6:54 to play, breaking free at the line and outrunning the defense. Diniz added the point after for the 47-0 final.

The Cougars sealed the shutout with a fumble recovery by Brian Gonsalves in the closing minute, stopping the final Pioneer drive.

"It was men playing with boys," Loureiro told his excited, but tired team after the game as they huddled underneath the goalpost. "We banged a big drum tonight."

Loureiro gave tips of the hat to the offensive line, which opened up big holes for the ball carriers and the defense, which stepped up to the challenge.

"When you get down to crunch time, the defense is what puts that goose egg up on the scoreboard," said Loureiro.

Leading the way offensively was Arzac, scoring three touchdowns and rushing for more than 140 yards. He also was stellar on defense, with 12 tackles and one interception.

"We practiced hard every day," Arzac said of preparing for the game.

Justin Kelly, starting at center, got a great push all night.

"I played better in this game than I ever have before," Kelly said, noting that he and his teammates alike stepped up the effort for the playoffs.

The road win also brought a measure of satisfaction.

"We embarrassed them in the playoffs," he said of Pioneer.

For Hooks, it came down to keeping the season alive for the seniors.

"We talked about the seniors, they didn't want it to be the last game so we as juniors stepped it up," he explained. "For the first time in a while, it was fun, next week will be an even bigger game."

Quarterback Beam was content to hand the ball off Friday night rather than throw it, noting that the game plan worked well.

"All week long, we knew our offensive line had something going," Beam said. "They made holes for everybody."

Arzac carried the ball 21 times to lead the squad. Ramirez had three carries for 39 yards, Hooks had a 68-yard run for a touchdown.

"Jason Chandley and Marcus Savage ran the ball well on the misdirection," added Loureiro. "Our inside linebackers were solid, Gus had the 12 tackles, Jesse Jimenez had 14 tackles and one sack, Suniga had eight tackles and Gentry had seven tackles and one sack."

The Cougars got big games out of everyone on the field Friday night, clicking on all cylinders.

"Up front, Anthony Oste, Ryan Lippincott and Jake Brown all had big games, Hooks and Bishop both had good games in the secondary and Marcus Savage broke up a few passes," said Loureiro.

With the clock running in the fourth quarter, the game went into high gear and Loureiro said he does regret not getting more players in as the quarter wound down.

"I felt bad that we didn't get a few more kids in, kids that we would have liked to have gotten in, kids that we should have gotten in," he said.

The win keeps Escalon in the hunt for a return trip to UOP but they first have to get through Linden on Friday night. The Lions defeated Ripon in a first round match up, so Escalon will travel to Linden for the Friday night game. Kickoff will be at 7:30 p.m.