It’s not a trend they’re happy about.
Escalon’s varsity football Cougars have now lost two straight Homecoming contests, as they fell in the Friday night, Sept. 16 game to Trans-Valley League rival Hughson this week, 29-14.
Last year, they lost to Kimball in non-league play and while they avenged that loss earlier this season on the road, this past Friday night they once again found themselves losing the finale of Homecoming week, the varsity football contest.
This time, it hurt more, as now the Cougars are 0-1 in league play and know that the TVL is loaded and ready, coming after them as the reigning champs.
“This is a true rivalry game, this was match up number 90, the next closest team we have played is Patterson with 83 meetings,” head coach Andrew Beam said.
Escalon and Hughson have played each other in football since 1932 and while the Cougars still have a sizeable overall advantage – 67-20-3 – that didn’t make Friday night’s loss any better.
“It was a week of distractions,” Beam admitted, with all the Homecoming festivities superimposed with the grief of a community still coming to grips with the untimely loss of longtime Escalon teacher and coach Greg Largent on Sept. 11.
“I think we all cried from Sunday to Friday,” Beam said. “But we can’t use anything as an excuse; we just didn’t play well.”
To make matters worse, the Cougars have to stew on this loss for longer than normal, as they have bye on Sept. 23.
“I’d play anybody right now,” the coach said of wanting to get his team back on the field and focused. “It’s (not playing this week) just a stark reminder of the embarrassment.”
Having to wait for a chance at redemption until Sept. 30 hopefully will push the team to come together and get back on track as they look to defend their TVL title. With an energized Huskies team, the tough Hilmar Yellowjackets and bitter rival Ripon, the road to the league title is a rocky one at best.
“I felt like, in all honesty, in 13 years of coaching, this was the first time a team we were more athletic than wanted it more,” Beam pointed out. “They had less skill than any of the first four teams we played. But they wanted it more, on every level, and credit to their coaches and players, they got it.”
Hughson got on the board first as a pass interception was turned in to a touchdown but the extra point was no good, the visitors leading 6-0. Escalon was able to answer that first quarter score, Logan Anderson going in on a 34-yard run and Ryker Peters plowing through for the 2-point conversion to make it 8-6 in Escalon’s favor.
But the Cougars lost the lead in the second quarter and could never recover. Hughson scored a touchdown and field goal in the second quarter to lead it 17-8 at the half.
“That was a back breaker,” Beam said of the late second quarter touchdown.
Hughson had converted on the field goal to lead it 9-8 but then punched through the score with time running out in the half to up their advantage to 17-8. The Huskies scored two more touchdowns, one in the third and one in the fourth, while Escalon got a 16-yard touchdown catch from Owen Nash in the fourth quarter for the final score of the night. Still, the host squad took the demoralizing 29-14 loss in front of a packed house.
“It didn’t matter what it was,” Beam noted of the offensive scheme. “We just couldn’t get it going. Offensively, we never got ahead of the chains.”
Lack of attention to detail, lack of attention to assignment; both came back to haunt the Cougars and they were burned for three interceptions and a fumble, with four turnovers on the night to Hughson’s one, a fourth quarter fumble recovered by the Cougars.
Rushing, Peters had 10 carries for 47 yards and Anderson had six for 37. Nash pulled in seven passes for 115 yards.
“We had 212 offensive yards to their 425; we were awful on first down,” said Beam. “They ran 70 plays, we ran 40.”
But no one in the TVL is feeling sorry for the Cougars, Beam said, they are looking for the opportunity to pounce.
“This was a collective loss; it falls on all of us, on the coaches, on the players,” added Beam. “We’re facing some adversity … we will see if we can come in with a renewed sense of fire and purpose. Now in terms of the playoffs we’re behind the eight-ball and we can’t afford to look at anybody but Hilmar.”
The Cougars will have to get back to basics and prepare, as next opponent Hilmar will be ready to welcome them in for a pivotal TVL contest on Sept. 30.