It wasn’t easy but it was satisfying, as the varsity Cougars held off a desperate Hilmar Yellowjackets team at Engel Field on Friday night. The 41-34 victory was important on a few levels including being the record-setting Sac-Joaquin Section win for head coach Mark Loureiro – 262 – and effectively knocking the Yellowjackets out of the playoffs, as they fell to 0-2.
Escalon, with wins over Hughson and Hilmar, stands at 2-0 and heads to Riverbank this week for an Oct. 24 contest before welcoming Ripon in for a Halloween night showdown with plenty of playoff implications.
“We knew we would see their best game,” coach Loureiro said of the Yellowjackets, who were virtually in a ‘must win’ situation after losing to Ripon in their league opener.
It was a back-and-forth battle, Hilmar taking the early lead and Escalon battling back. It even appeared as though the Cougars had the game put away midway through the fourth quarter, but the Yellowjackets refused to go away, buzzing around the field and swarming to the ball, continuing to pressure the Cougars down to the final minute.
“We won that game three or four times, I felt,” Loureiro admitted of the topsy turvy roller coaster ride. “After the touchdown pass to Brandon (Grogan) and we were up 34-14, I felt we had it.”
But two more Hilmar scores cut deeply into the lead and the Cougars had to answer back late in the game.
Escalon had a 13-7 lead at the half and stretched it to 27-14 after three quarters. Hilmar found the end zone three times in the fourth quarter – one of the extra point attempts blocked by Javier Perez – while Escalon crossed the goal line twice in that frame to come away with the 7-point victory.
“It was a game of emotions and it was big for the kids,” said Loureiro. “It probably got us into the playoffs.”
It was win number five overall and six typically is the ‘magic number’ for making the postseason, so the Cougars need to win one of their final three.
Cougar touchdowns on the night came on a 1-yard run by Wesley Dick in the first quarter and a 2-yard run by Dick in the second. Hunter Calton found the end zone on a 1-yard run in the third quarter and Dick converted on a 12-yard running play in the third as well. Huge fourth quarter scores came on a 58-yard pass play from quarterback Caleb Mullen to Brandon Grogan and Calton rushed for a 42-yard touchdown to close out the Cougar scoring.
“Hunter Calton had 16 carries for 170 yards and two touchdowns and Wesley Dick got some tough yards for us, 22 carries for 114 and three touchdowns,” Loureiro pointed out. “Caleb Mullen threw the ball well, 128 yards and Brandon Grogan had two catches for 86 yards. We also got big catches from Sam Lattig and Marcus Williams, those were both third down catches to set up touchdowns.”
Defensively, Garrett Nebe had an outstanding game with seven tackles and a sack, Chris Pilcher , Grogan and Adam Roberson had six tackles each.
“I thought the defense did a good job containing their quarterback,” Loureiro said. “And our O line played great, got a push all night.”
Escalon had 15 first downs, 459 total yards with 331 rushing yards and 128 passing yards on five-of-10 completions. They were penalized five times for 35 yards.
Hilmar had eight first downs and 261 total yards, with 112 rushing and 149 through the air on 10-of-16 completions. They had eight penalties for 65 yards.
“It’s an incredible experience,” Grogan said of the big win. “Coach prepared us for this week’s game and we knew we had all the Cougars of the past with us.
“We looked at it like the last three years they (Hilmar) have taken us out, we wanted to return the favor.”
Dick, who plowed through the Hilmar defense throughout the night, needed just a couple yards to help the Cougars maintain possession with time running out.
“Coach told me to get at least two yards,” Dick said of carrying the ball farther before going down and ultimately sealing the win.
He said the Hilmar team refusing to go away was frustrating but ultimately, a good test.
“That made it really tough but it also makes it feel better to win,” Dick said.
Nebe said it was a solid game on both sides of the ball that made the difference.
“It felt great and the O line really came through,” Nebe said, adding that there was “plenty of fire” in the locker room at halftime. “It’s amazing to knock Hilmar out.”
For center Jesse Talamantes, the win was a sweet one as well.
“We had a good week at practice and we knew as long as we came out and did the job, we would be okay,” he said. “We just wanted to make sure we won the game.”
Escalon goes on the road this week, traveling to take on the Riverbank Bruins, currently 0-2 in league play.
“They are really struggling in the TVL, coach (Jim) Oliver is working hard, doing a good job with those kids,” Loureiro said.
This will be the final year in the TVL for the Bruins, as they will play an independent schedule next season.
For the Cougars, they will go in seeking that important sixth win of the campaign. Game time is about 7:30 p.m.