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Friday Night Opener Goes In Loss Column For Varsity Cougars
A long road trip to Los Banos to face off with the Western Athletic Conference squad saw the Escalon Cougars come up just a little short, falling by a 34-32 final on Friday night.

The back and forth game ended up in the loss column for the Cougars, but head coach Mark Loureiro said he saw enough good things in the contest to give him hope for the season ahead.

Escalon came in off a relatively soft game, he added, facing Ceres and not having much of a fight from the Bulldogs, while Los Banos sharpened their skills the week before against Valley Oak League powerhouse Oakdale.

"Our kids played really hard for us and this game is going to pay big dividends down the road," Loureiro said of taking on the larger school. "They have some great skill kids with tremendous speed and it was a great test for us."

Offensively, Loureiro said he was pleased with the 374 yards of offense the Cougars put up against Los Banos, including 22 first downs.

But disparity in the flow of the game made the difference.

"We would take four or five minutes to score, they would take four or five plays," noted the coach. "Their quarterback had an outstanding game, he was 16-for-18 for 258 yards and four touchdowns.

"Playing Oakdale the week before, they were battle tested."

Escalon did strike first, capping a 65-yard drive with a 3-yard run from Nathan Chunn and the kick was good by Thomas Diniz for an early 7-0 lead. A 61-yard touchdown by Los Banos followed, but the 2-point conversion failed, making it 7-6. Escalon added a 38-yard field goal by Diniz to go up 10-6, but Los Banos closed out the first quarter with a 9-yard touchdown run (2-point conversion failed) to lead it 12-10.

Second quarter scoring saw a 1-yard run from Chunn and a 2-point conversion from quarterback Phillip Kimble to Andrew Zavala for an 18-12 Cougar lead. Tying it up, Los Banos got a 9-yard touchdown pass, the extra point failed, to send the teams into the locker room knotted at 18-18.

The only score of the third quarter came from Chunn, his third score of the night on a 3-yard run, and the kick good by Diniz, putting the Cougars up 25-18 going into the fourth quarter. But the host squad put two scores on the board in the final frame to Escalon's one, taking the win.

A 7-yard touchdown pass and a successful 2-point conversion gave Los Banos a 26-25 lead and they then converted on an Escalon fumble, parlaying that turnover into a 35-yard pass play for the touchdown and a successful 2-point conversion for a 34-25 edge.

With time running down, Escalon answered back with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Kimble to Jason Robbins, and the kick by Diniz was good, trimming the lead to 34-32, but that was as close as the Cougars could get, the home team taking the win.

"Kimble threw the ball well for us, did a nice job," Loureiro said of his quarterback. "Chunn had a great game, 27 carries for 116 yards with three touchdowns, Robbins had seven carries for 41 yards and five catches for 61 yards and a score."

Defensively, the team played well overall but did have some trouble matching up with the speed of Los Banos. Leaders were Johnathon Costa with 10 tackles, Lance Davis with eight and Jacob Salvador with seven.

"We have to get better on the pass rush," added Loureiro.

Escalon had 22 first downs on the night to the 15 for Los Banos, while the Cougars had 374 total yards of offense and Los Banos 380. Rushing plays showed 44-for-268 Escalon, 31-for-127 Los Banos. Each team attempted 18 passes, Escalon completed 12 for 117 yards, Los Banos 16 for 258 yards. Escalon had one fumble and lost one, Los Banos did not fumble. The Cougars had seven penalties for 50 yards, Los Banos had 10 for 80.

This week, the Cougars will host their home opener, taking on Pacheco on Friday, Aug. 31 about 7:30 p.m.