In a battle of Trans-Valley League heavyweights, Hilmar had a few more rounds in them and came away with a 28-14 win against Escalon on Friday night.
For the host Yellowjackets, the victory cemented their standing atop the Trans-Valley League and earned coach Frank Marques his 100th career victory.
It was a game that saw the Yellowjackets score on their first possession, only to have Escalon equal the feat.
The Cougars won the toss and deferred, so all the host team did was go on a tidy two-and-a-half minute scoring drive to get the game started. Tyler Robinson got them nearly to midfield on his kickoff return and it was only a few plays later that quarterback Jonathan O’Brien handed it off to Joseph Bello for the score. The point after was good for a 7-0 Hilmar lead with 9:32 to play in the first quarter.
A kickoff return by Escalon’s Christian May got the Cougars to the 35-yard line and they answered the Hilmar drive with one of their own, eating up nearly nine minutes on the drive and scoring on a short touchdown pass to Tyler Lawrence from Ben Hood after the Yellowjackets stuffed three successive rushing attempts from the 2-yard line. With the point after from Thomas Diniz, Escalon tied it up, 7-7, with 39 seconds to go in the opening frame.
“This was a great football game,” Escalon coach Mark Loureiro said. “The difference was just four or five plays, championship teams find ways to win. We played hard, good football and I’m glad the kids rose to the occasion.”
While Loureiro admitted “a loss is still a loss” there were a lot of positives to take from the contest, including the fact that Escalon is getting battle tested and ready for the postseason. The loss to Hilmar, however, made the next two games must-wins for the Cougars to get into the playoffs.
Second quarter action saw O’Brien complete a pass up the middle to Kris Camden on a drive, which then stalled, and they set up for a field goal attempt. The kick was wide left but the Cougars were called for roughing the kicker, the Yellowjackets got a second chance on the penalty and didn’t miss, Trent Orosco running it in on the next play from scrimmage for the score. The kick was good, 14-7 Hilmar with 10:27 to go in the half.
The host team held Escalon to a quick possession and then made it 21-7 on a 45-yard touchdown run from O’Brien, kick good, with 7:59 to go in the half.
The Yellowjackets added their final score of the night on a 12-yard pass from O’Brien to Robinson with 5:40 to play in the game, the kick was good for a 28-7 lead.
Escalon refused to leave without getting back on the scoreboard, battling on their next possession to punch one through on an 8-yard catch and run by Wesley Dick, the pass completed by Hood. The point after was good for a 28-14 score, the Cougars tried the onside kick with 49 seconds to go in the game, but Hilmar was able to recover.
From there, it was two snaps and the victory formation for the Yellowjackets, keeping their league record perfect and taking the inside track to the title and top seed into the playoffs.
“We got a solid effort on defense,” Loureiro added of his team’s showing. “Collin Strasser had seven tackles and three sacks, Clayton Akers had four tackles and two sacks, there was constant pressure on their quarterback. Lance Davis had eight tackles, the pass rush was there, the whole defense played well.”
Offensively, the Cougars also got contributions from multiple players.
“That first drive, 14 plays, nine minutes off the clock, that was textbook us,” Loureiro said.
Frankie Bavaro rushed for 41 yards, Christian May had 35 yards rushing and Josh Redding had 31, with Lawrence and Dick getting the scores. Brandon Grogan also had a couple key receptions.
Penalties hurt the Cougars, called for four penalties for 60 yards, while Hilmar had just one penalty on the night. Hilmar had 246 total yards of offense, Escalon had 196.