In a must-win game as they look to get into position for the playoff picture, Escalon’s varsity Cougars took care of business on the gridiron Thursday night.
Hosting Modesto Christian in the Trans-Valley League contest on Oct. 6, it was a solid 62-30 victory for the host Cougars, a game that allowed them to get multiple players involved. After TVL losses to Hughson and Hilmar to open up league play, the Cougars got back into more of their groove against Modesto Christian, with outstanding nights from Jamin Miller, Logan Anderson, Derek Silva and some highlight reel running by Josh Graham.
Modesto Christian won the toss and opted to take the ball first, Escalon kicking off to the visiting Crusaders. But on the first possession, Miller stepped in front of a pass and got a pick-six, going 38 yards into the end zone to make it 6-0 Escalon. With the kick good by Talan Reider, the host team had a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.
Modesto Christian had to punt on its next possession and, on the play, a tricky bounce came up and struck the back of an Escalon player, who was turned the other way, locked up with a Crusader opponent. The visitors fell on the ball, getting possession back. They used that to their advantage, converting on a 50-yard pass play for the touchdown. Lining up for the 2-point conversion with 6:42 left in the first, the Crusaders couldn’t convert but were within a point, 7-6. Derek Silva batted down the pass attempt.
Then it was Escalon’s turn to get back on the scoreboard, Owen Nash getting Escalon a touchdown with five minutes to go in the opening quarter, scoring on a 38-yard touchdown toss from quarterback Donovan Rozevink. The kick was good for a 14-6 lead.
Closing out the first quarter was arguably the most exciting run of the season to date, a punt return by Logan Anderson that went 67 yards. He zigzagged up the field after taking the punt, cutting one way and then another, bouncing off one defender, staggered backward by another but keeping his feet moving forward. At the end of the run, he was in the end zone and the kick by Reider was good. That made it 21-6 Escalon after one quarter of play.
They kept the pressure on in the second as Ryker Peters scored on a 12-yard run, kick failed, to go up 27-6.
Modesto fought back, scoring and this time converting on the 2-point attempt to trim the lead to 27-14.
Sophomore Ryan Lewis then pulled in a 40-yard pass from Rozevink for the touchdown, the kick was good and it was 34-14 Escalon at halftime.
The break in between halves featured the performance of the Tiny Cougars, young cheerleading hopefuls who worked with the Escalon cheer squad learning routines and then performing for the packed stands at Engel Field.
There were over 150 youngsters taking part this year, ranging in age from 5 to 13, said EHS cheer coaches. The routine included plenty of dance moves and even some stunts, as each cheerleader worked with a small group of girls individually, then brought them all together for the special performance. It was met with cheers and applause from the crowd. Prior to halftime, the Tiny Cougars were able to do some cheering on the sidelines as well.
Back on the gridiron, second half play saw Escalon get a third quarter touchdown on a 28-yard run by Miller, kick good, score was 41-14 Escalon, the Cougars scoring on the opening possession of the second half.
A little over a minute later, Miller was in the right place at the right time and it resulted in another pick six for the junior. Lewis was able to get his hand on an MC pass and tipped it, the ball falling into Miller’s hands and he raced 11 yards into the end zone for the score. The kick was good to make it 48-14 with just over nine minutes left in the third quarter.
The Crusaders got back on the board with 2:16 to play in the third, scoring on a short passing play and adding the 2-point conversion, trailing 48-22.
Josh Graham got involved then for Escalon, gaining some solid yards on carries late in the third. He scored early in the fourth on a 13-yard rushing play with 11:05 to play in the game, kick good, to put Escalon up 55-22.
After pinning MC deep on their next possession, Graham got the ball and broke off an 84-yard run for a touchdown with 4:59 left in the contest. The kick was good for a 62-22 lead. The Crusaders would get one last touchdown and 2-point conversion in the final minute, with Escalon taking the 62-30 victory.
“I saw the blocks, cut outside the blocker and was just thinking, they better not catch me,” Graham said of his 84-yard run. “It was an amazing feeling and this is a really important win after starting off 0 and 2.”
Lewis added it was good to get the win, especially after cleaning up some mistakes from “sloppy play” over the past couple of games.
“We needed this to begin the road back,” he said.
Anderson admitted returning the punt for a touchdown was something he thought about before fielding the kick.
“I thought it’d be really cool if I returned it, I kept seeing cut back lanes and I made it, barely,” he said of the long distance run. “This win’s great for us, the second team did their job and hopefully we can get on a roll.”
For Miller, with three touchdowns on the night, it was all about focus.
“The focus was to do our job and I appreciate all the second unit guys that have been helping us on the practice field,” Miller pointed out. “It was a must win game for sure, we knew what to do, we just had to be confident.”
Silva had 12 tackles on defense, Lewis had three sacks and Ayden Wilson added one sack.
Twelve players got in to the action of carrying or catching the ball, said head coach Andrew Beam.
“We needed some sort of boost,” he said. “This was a step in the right direction.”
Graham was the leading rusher with 171 yards on nine carries, Nash was the leading receiver. Now the team will get ready for Senior Night, hosting Riverbank on Friday, Oct. 14. Recognition for senior players and cheerleaders will be featured during the evening.