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In an epic defensive battle, the visiting Patterson Tigers got the final stop of the game, turning back the Escalon Cougars at the one-yard line ... and securing a trip to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V football championship game with a 12-7 victory.

A standing room only crowd at Engel Field watched Friday night as the Tigers celebrated their second victory over Escalon this season, shutting down the final second surge toward the goal line. It took the referees several agonizing seconds to determine whether the fullback plunge by Jesus Duran was successful but, as the players collapsed on the goal line were untangled, they signaled that Duran had been stopped and the celebration was on for Patterson.

"There were a few things that really hurt us," head coach Mark Loureiro said of the contest. "We had three turnovers in the first half, all of them in the red zone and against good people, you have to take advantage of your opportunities.

"We had a touchdown called back, it was on an interception, Jake Caton ran it in but we were called for a clip so we blew some opportunities."

With both defenses giving up precious little ground, however, Escalon went into the locker room at halftime down by just a 6-0 score.

"Our kids came back and played with a lot of heart, both teams' defenses dominated the game," Loureiro said.

Patterson had just a couple of big plays on the night, the first a 50-yard run by quarterback Daniel Reza on a third down with 8:20 to go in the second quarter. The kick for the point after was wide right but the Tigers took the 6-0 lead.

On Escalon's next possession, Josh May got the call on successive carries and got the Cougars a first down near midfield. After a pass completion to Daniel Thompson, quarterback Nick Aprile kept it on a third and three but was tackled so violently his helmet was ripped off his head, causing a wound that required staples in his head. After getting the 15 yards for the Patterson personal foul on that play, Aprile was shook up but returned to the game and the Cougars continued to make their way down the field. On another third down play, Aprile kept the ball but May, blocking the way for his quarterback, was taken down hard and re-injured the knee he had surgery on earlier this year. Helped off the field, limping, he was not able to return to the game and watched the second half dejectedly from the bench, out of uniform and icing down the knee.

Aprile got a first down on the play and the Cougars were in the red zone, at the 19-yard line, but Patterson's Robby Samano picked off an Aprile pass on the next play to stop the scoring threat.

The teams traded possessions to close out the second quarter, the Cougars still well in the contest. Since they had won the toss and opted to kick off to start the game, the Cougars got the ball to start the second half.

There were some tense moments just before the teams came back on to the field, as a huge throng of Patterson fans spilled out of the bleachers and on to the field to make a tunnel for their players. Against CIF regulations to have any fans on the playing field, they were required to move back, at least on to the track, to welcome the players back. Escalon's cheerleaders had a banner for the Cougars to run through and several students from EHS also piled on to the track to line it for the Cougars.

Rocky Overturf gave the Cougars a solid starting position, returning the second half kickoff to the 35-yard line but the swarming Patterson defense held Escalon to a three and out possession. Patterson opted to play it as four down territory and, after getting one first down on the possession, were stopped at the 36-yard line of Escalon and the Cougars took over. They went on a drive that saw a couple of first downs but then fumbled deep in Tiger territory and Patterson recovered. On the first play from scrimmage, Patterson fumbled and Nick Williamson was there to scoop up the loose ball, working to stay on his feet as he stumbled into the end zone for Escalon's only touchdown of the night.

The kick by Jason Diniz was good for a 7-6 Escalon lead with 4:57 to play in the third quarter.

Taking the kickoff, Patterson went on a lengthy drive that saw them convert a few first downs and overcome a couple of penalties and incomplete passes. On a third and 13, Reza found Ronyea Ellington all alone in the middle of the field on a screen play, the receiver rumbling in from 45 yards out for the score. Setting up initially for the 2-point conversion, the Patterson team was penalized for an ineligible receiver downfield on the play and after the penalty was assessed, went for the kick. It was no good, but they had pulled in to the lead, 12-7, with 1:42 left in the third quarter.

Again the teams traded possessions and on a third and 18 play, Aprile scrambled to buy some time, finally getting a pass off intended for Thompson. Aprile was then hit hard out of bounds and the Tigers were assessed the 15-yard penalty for the personal foul. That made it third and three and Aprile kept the ball but couldn't gain any ground.

His collarbone was actually broken on that hit, said Loureiro, but the senior quarterback refused to come out of the game, playing with the pain.

The punt was bobbled in the end zone by Patterson and covered by Escalon, but the officials brought the ball out to the 20, ruling it was a touchback.

After getting one first down, Reza's pass intended for Samano was picked off at the 41 yard line by Jake Loureiro - playing with the flu and a fever of more than 100-plus - and that put the Cougars in good field position. There was a fumble on the first handoff but they recovered, making it second and 19 from the 49. Aprile was then sacked and then threw an incomplete pass and they had to punt the ball away.

Patterson couldn't do much with it and had to return the punt, shanking the ball and having it go out of bounds on the 47, where Escalon took over with 2:23 to play.

A completed pass to Caton, an incomplete pass and a sack with 1:52 left saw the Cougars looking at a fourth and 13 from the 49. Going for it, the Cougars drew the pass interference penalty, giving them a first down with 57.8 seconds left in the game. Caton then made a big catch for a first down at the 16-yard line and Aprile kept the ball on the next play for no gain. On the next play, it appeared as though Aprile, sweeping left, had made a dive past the pylon into the end zone but the referees ruled he was short and put the Cougars back on the field with precious seconds remaining. Duran charged ahead on the next play for a gain of a couple, the Cougars quickly got back to the line and Aprile spiked the ball with just 1.3 seconds remaining in the game, enough for one final play. With the ball resting at about the one-yard line, Duran lined up behind guard Joe Cowan and the offensive line made the push ... but the defensive line of Patterson pushed just a little bit harder ... and pushed the Tigers into the Section showdown with Central Catholic.

"It was a slugfest," Loureiro said. "We still had a chance to win it at the end.

"At the same time, maybe it's a blessing in disguise, we've got major injuries, Josh blew his knee out, Nick has the broken collarbone and staples in his head, my Jake was sick, Jesus jumped in to help in the second half and he's got damaged cartilage in his knee ... we would have been limping in to UOP."

Escalon had eight first downs on the night, Patterson had nine, the Cougars had 129 total yards while Patterson had 264. Escalon had 35 rushes for 98 yards, Paterson 46 for 183. Escalon completed four of six pass attempts for 31 yards and one interception, Patterson had six completions on 11 attempts with two interceptions for 81 yards total. Escalon had four fumbles and lost three, Patterson had one fumble and lost it. The Cougars had one costly penalty, the clip, for 15 yards and Patterson had six for 60.

"Offensively, they kept us in check," said Loureiro. "They controlled the line of scrimmage and the turnovers hurt us, you can't afford to make mistakes like that against good teams."

Caton had three catches on the night and Thompson had one. Defensively, leaders for the Cougars were Jake Loureiro, with 11 tackles and one interception, Izzy Ruiz with 11 tackles, Nick Williamson with 10 tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery for the touchdown. Brandon Collins had nine tackles, Cowan had seven.

"This was a great group of kids," added Loureiro. "We made the playoffs for the 16th time in 19 years, they got the TVL title for the first time since 2002, we had 10 wins, that's 15 times in the last 17 years ... after the game, it's real disappointing, but when you step back, you see there's a lot to be proud of."

Ending the campaign at 10-2, Escalon's only losses this season have both come to the Tigers. But, as Loureiro pointed out, they didn't go down without a fight.

"There was drama," the coach said. "You play hard all season and it comes down to the last play, the last second ... we couldn't ask for anything more of the kids."