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Football Blue Banner Comes Home To Escalon
In a game dominated statistically by the Cougars, they had to find one last miracle to come away with a win, and they sealed their eighth Sac-Joaquin Section championship with a clutch field goal late in the fourth quarter.

For head coach Mark Loureiro, the victory at Lincoln High in Stockton on Dec. 3 was sweet ... adding its own flavor to the cornucopia of wins the Cougars have amassed at the Section level.

"It's not something you're going to forget," Loureiro admitted.

Escalon had pretty much been in control for the first three quarters, and took what looked like an insurmountable 19-7 lead with some nine minutes to go in the contest. Loureiro said he felt certain then that his team would be hoisting the blue banner.

"I thought we were in control, we had 367 yards to their 212, but the momentum just swung crazily," said Loureiro.

Calaveras, looking for its first Section title in more than a half dozen trips to the finals, grabbed its chance, suddenly able to make big plays and shred the usually tight defense of the Cougars, burning them for a couple of quick scores and a 20-19 lead with just under three minutes to play.

"It would have been a tough loss to take, no question about that," said Loureiro. "I have never, in all my years of coaching here, blown a two touchdown lead in the fourth quarter."

What turned out to be the game winning drive included an amazing pass from quarterback Gino Franceschetti to Brandon Shaw on a fourth and 21, a ball that Shaw pulled in over two defenders, taking a deflection off a Calaveras player. Not only that, said Loureiro, he continued to make headway up the field against all odds.

"They rushed three guys so that gave Gino a chance," Loureiro said of the Calaveras defense on the 'Hail Mary' pass that Franceschetti got off on the pivotal fourth and 21 play that was do or die for the Cougars. "He threw it up for grabs and gave Brandon a chance, Brandon just made an unbelievable catch, then he went another 18 yards and carried four guys on his back ... that's when the momentum swung again, I could feel it, I saw it in the eyes of the guys on the sidelines, I told Gino just to take care of the ball and we would kick the field goal."

With Shaw getting the first down, the Cougars saw an 11-yard rush by Josh Miguel on a quick pitch on the next play for another first down. That was followed by a few more rushing plays, by Miguel and Adrian Cortes, the last one by Cortes going up the middle to put the ball in good position for the field goal attempt.

Though two extra point attempts had already gone awry on the night, Loureiro said he didn't even think of doing anything else when decision time came.

"Schetti's been solid all year," he said of his junior QB and kicker. "Those two missed extra points, the ball slipped off the tee on the first one and we did a terrible job blocking on the second one."

With that in mind, Loureiro said there was "no doubt" he was sending Franceschetti out for the field goal try.

Everything had to work, though, from the long snap by Victor Carrillo, the hold by Shaw, the kick by Franceschetti. It did work, and on a 24-yard field goal, the ball split the uprights and put the Cougars on top, 22-20 with 31 seconds to play.

"I expected an intense, physical battle," admitted Loureiro. "When we got up, 19-7, they (Calaveras) had every reason to quit. But they didn't. Then they were down 19-14, they stopped us three in a row and then we were just having on for our lives."

Calaveras, eager for that first Section crown, made their presence known on their first possession of the night, scoring on their opening drive. Escalon won the toss and deferred, kicking off. Calaveras started the drive on the 18-yard line and used a combination of passing and rushing plays to make consistent headway up the field, resulting in a 1-yard plunge from Chris Ussery and the point after for a 7-0 lead with 5:57 to play in the first quarter.

Not to be outdone, Escalon answered back on its first drive, something that was key, said Loureiro.

"It was major for us to score, we drove the field and got a 6-yard run by Josh Miguel with the extra point made to tie it up," he said.

Miguel and Cortes shared the load on the first drive, along with Franceschetti hooking up with James Hill on a big completion for a first down to keep the drive going.

The 6-yard run and dive for the end zone by Miguel plus the point after, made it 7-7 with 51 seconds left in the first quarter.

The second quarter saw the teams trading possessions, with the final drive of the first half belonging to Escalon, Miguel eventually going in from 2 yards out with 22 seconds to go in the half, the kick for the point after was no good, but the Cougars had a 13-7 lead.

"That was a 95-yard, 12-play drive," noted Loureiro.

Escalon got the ball to start the second half but were stymied in the drive, having to punt it away after chewing up more than five minutes of time. Calaveras went on a drive that seemed destined to find the end zone, but an interception by Hill put an end to it, with Jacob Wallace getting in the face of the Redskins quarterback, helping create the interception. Another trade of possessions later, it was the end of the third quarter with the Cougars still driving.

They capped the drive with a 1-yard run by Cortes for the score, but the point after was blocked, putting Escalon up 19-7 with 9:06 to go in the game.

The Redskins fought back, with a huge return on the kickoff putting them near midfield. Later looking at a fourth and four on the 48 and appearing to set up for the punt, they instead went for it and got a first down on the pass completion. The next play saw a 38-yard scoring run by Monti Wilson and the kick was good, Calaveras trimming the lead to 19-14 with 7:41 to play.

A quick three and out by Escalon gave Calaveras the ball back at midfield on a short punt, and they took over with 5:22 to go. With a third and eight at the 34, quarterback Garrett Bock found Ussery in the end zone and the Redskins had a 20-19 lead. They went for the 2-point conversion but the saving tackle from the combination of Shaw and Carrillo kept it a 1-point game.

That led to the final drive heroics, though it looked bleak with less than three minutes to go.

Matt Roberson picked up the bouncing Calaveras kickoff and returned it to the 30 on the final drive. An incomplete pass, a sack and a penalty for intentional grounding, and another incomplete pass - from Miguel to Franceschetti on the option - pinned the Cougars at the 19-yard line with the fourth and 21 with 2:27 to play. It was then that Franceschetti's pass completion to Shaw, with the acrobatic catch and run accounted for a 53-yard play, to set up the eventual game-winning field goal.

When the Cougars took the 22-20 lead with 31 seconds to play, they still had to kick off and victory was not a certainty.

Calaveras got another big return on the kickoff and had a first and 10 from the 44, then gained some yards with another Escalon penalty and were primed for an answer to Escalon's final drive. But with no timeouts and just 16 seconds to play, Tony Vincent got a bead on Bock and put the Calaveras quarterback down for the count with a sack to end the game.

Vincent had eight tackles and four sacks on the night, Carrillo had 11 tackles, with eight each from Miguel, Shaw and Shane Silveira, with a sack from Travis James.

Offensively, Miguel rushed 25 times for 196 yards and two touchdowns, Cortes had 23 carries for 87 yards and good games inside came from Dylan Cathcart, Carrillo, Chad Hale, Nate Caton and Roberson.

"Hats off to our kids, good things happen to people who work hard," said Loureiro. "This was a hard earned win, another chapter in the history of Escalon football.

"Nobody went home disappointed with the game they got ... this one had it all."