Ryker Peters found himself in familiar territory – frequently – on Friday night, getting into the end zone five times.
He paced the varsity football effort as the Cougars went on the road to Reno, Nevada and got past the host Damonte Ranch Mustangs by a 43-29 final.
But almost overshadowing his performance, the uncharacteristic emotional, often immature behavior of the Escalon players on the field.
The game itself may have seen the desired result, going in the win column, but head coach Andrew Beam said it definitely was not the way he wanted to see his team play in the season opener.
“If you figure it out, you tell me,” the coach said rhetorically of the unusual feel to the contest and his team’s emotional response to many plays, including one that saw two players – one from each team – ejected in the first quarter. “With so many returning players, we played like a bunch of inexperienced, first year varsity guys, we let things get to us and we looked like a very immature team; we made mistakes that were uncharacteristic.”
In the first quarter, after pulling in a pass, Logan Anderson was tackled hard, including the Damonte Ranch player committing a flagrant facemask penalty that was not called. On the ground, a Mustang player then came flying in and hit Anderson while he was already down. That was flagged and it prompted an immediate response from Owen Nash, who rushed in and pushed the offending Damonte Ranch player from behind. Anderson and Nash served as captains for the Friday night game.
Nash was subsequently flagged and both the player who hit Anderson while he was down and Nash were ejected. Beam said he was satisfied with the explanation from the officials – Nash committed a ‘blind side hit’ by pushing his opponent from behind, deemed a dangerous play with an automatic ejection. Had he pushed from the side or the front, he may have been penalized but not ejected. And while he was standing up for his teammate; either way, Beam said it showcased the behavioral issues displayed by many of the Cougars on Friday night.
“We lost our best two-way player,” Beam said of the Nash ejection. “But it’s a life lesson … our actions have consequences.”
The senior will also have to sit out the next game as a result of the penalty.
On the field, Escalon lost the toss and Damonte Ranch opted to kick off to start the game.
“We had a nice first drive to open the game, 10 plays, 80 yards, a great opening drive to start the season,” Beam said.
It ended on a 9-yard touchdown run from Peters, with Vicente Gonzalez adding the extra point.
Damonte Ranch answered with an 80-yard drive of their own on their first possession to knot it at 7-7.
Four plays later, Escalon got a 6-yard touchdown run from Peters, point after good, up 14-7.
“Then we got an interception from Nate Krieger and Logan went 27 yards for the touchdown, with Ryker taking in the two-point conversion for a 22-7 lead,” Beam said.
An 8-yard run, point after good, had the Cougars up 29-7 early in the second.
The Mustangs got on the scoreboard late in the first half, capitalizing on an interception that stopped a Cougar drive – one Beam feels could have put the host team away – and instead scored a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to trail 29-15 at the half.
The Mustangs got the ball to start the second half and scored to trim the lead to 29-21.
“We bounced back with a 14-yard run from Peters and the point after to go up 36-21 but we had three fumbles in the fourth quarter that really hurt us and let them back in the game,” said the coach.
Each team would score another touchdown before the final whistle for the 43-29 final.
Ultimately, some key defensive plays including an interception by Matthew Baptista and a goal line stand late in the game, kept the Cougars on the right side of the score.
Baptista and Krieger both had interceptions while Nico Franzia, Sawyer Mello and Ayden Wilson added sacks. Peters and Jamin Miller each recorded eight tackles.
Escalon had 462 total yards on the night, Damonte Ranch had 320.
Escalon had nine penalties for 81 yards, Damonte Ranch two for 25.
Offensively, Anderson had 13 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown, along with two catches for 49 yards. Peters had 21 carries for 227 yards and five touchdowns on the night.
“A win is a win,” Beam summarized of the contest. “It was a long road trip, the first out of state game for the Cougars and we came out with the win.”