Rolling up a 28-0 lead in the first half, the Escalon varsity Cougars played their way to a satisfying season-ending victory on the road Friday night.
By the time the final horn sounded, the football Cougars had a 42-7 win in hand over the rival Hughson Huskies.
“It was a great way to end the season,” said head coach Mark Loureiro, who saw his team battle through a lean year, ending with a 4-6 overall mark, 2-3 in the Trans-Valley League. They were one win shy of advancing to the playoffs, a crushing one-point loss to Modesto Christian the difference between the Crusaders heading to the playoffs and the Cougars staying home.
“If we’d gotten into the playoffs, we would have faced Sonora,” said Loureiro, noting that the Wildcats are the top seed and the class of Division V.
So instead, the Cougars will be happy with ending their season on a winning note, getting the hard fought, well deserved victory.
“The kids played loose,” Loureiro said, explaining that they knew the playoffs were out of the picture and instead focused on just having fun and getting more points on the board than the Huskies.
“A lot of the seniors had a really good game and we showed what we were capable of,” Loureiro added. “We dominated all the way, from the beginning to the end.”
Escalon had 14 points in the first quarter, 14 more in the second to take a commanding 28-0 lead at the half. They added single scores in the third and fourth quarters, giving up only a late touchdown to Hughson for the 42-7 final.
“C.J. Gumbs intercepted the first pass of the game,” Loureiro said of the Cougars winning the toss, kicking off and getting a turnover almost immediately.
From there, Hugo Alcala went in on a 29-yard run and Rodrigo DeMelo added the first of his six extra points on the night, giving Escalon a 7-0 lead before Hughson could grasp what happened.
After the Huskies had to punt the ball away on their next possession, Gumbs made everyone in a Hughson uniform miss him as he returned the punt, finding the end zone after a 57-yard run. The kick was good for a 14-0 lead.
Second quarter scoring for Escalon came on a pair of touchdowns from Gumbs, who had a stellar night in his Cougar finale. He scored on a 36-yard run, with the kick good and then grabbed his second interception of the night, returning that one 33 yards for the score. Tyler Voral went up against the Hughson receiver and tipped the ball away, with Gumbs finding it and then tearing down the field to the end zone. Both point after kicks by DeMelo were good, putting Escalon in control, 28-0.
“In the third quarter, C.J. went in on a 14-yard run and the kick was good,” Loureiro said. “Jake Lewis then scored on an 11-yard run in the fourth, the kick was good.”
The Huskies avoided the shutout with a late touchdown, scoring on a 4-yard run and kicking the extra point to make the final score 42-7 in favor of Escalon.
“This was a great way to end it, I was real happy for the kids,” the coach said.
By the numbers, Hughson had 14 first downs and Escalon 12, while the host Huskies had a total of 235 yards of offense to Escalon’s 269. The Huskies rushed 37 times for 169 yards, had 66 passing yards on 10-of-17 completions but also threw three interceptions. Escalon had 34 rushes for 262 yards and had seven passing yards on 3-of-4 completions, with starter Dylan Azevedo and back up Steven Grossi both getting a share of the snaps under center.
Gumbs had two of the three interceptions on the night for the Cougars, Nick DeWeerd also had one. Hughson had two fumbles and lost them both – Gumbs and Bo Capps getting the recoveries – while Escalon had one fumble but recovered it themselves. The host Huskies had three penalties for 45 yards, Escalon had three for 35.
“It was a pretty clean game,” Loureiro said, especially considering the longstanding rivalry of the two squads and the fact that each team only had one league win coming into the contest.
Defensive leaders for the Cougars were Estephan Salcedo with 13 tackles, followed by Tyler Swinford, Elliott Mello and Chance Bollen with seven tackles each.
Offensively, Gumbs paced the team in all-purpose yards and had 63 rushing yards. Lewis had 65 yards on the ground, Mark DeHaven had 59 and Alcala had 54.
The final game showed what the team was capable of, said Loureiro, but again it was tough for them to put it all together for a full four quarters during the season.
Looking back, the coach said a couple of missed tackles here and there, a couple of missed opportunities kept his team out of the playoff picture.
“We just missed it, two years in a row,” Loureiro said, noting that next year’s squad will have to find a way to not only win close games but also put teams away.
And while this season’s sub .500 overall record is something that Loureiro, his players and Cougar fans are not accustomed to at all, the season-ending victory nonetheless helped the longtime coach reach a milestone, as it was career win number 275.
The Division V playoffs begin this week, with top seed Sonora hosting No. 8 Modesto Christian on Thursday night, Nov. 10 and No. 2 Hilmar hosting No. 7 Colfax that same evening. Friday night games, Nov. 11 have No. 3 Calaveras hosting No. 6 Marysville and No. 4 Capital Christian hosting No. 5 Ripon.