Setting the tone early, Escalon capped a 10-play, 75-yard drive with a 9-yard touchdown run from Hunter Calton to start Friday night’s first round Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoff game.
They never looked back, taking a decisive 48-20 win at Engel Field against the visiting Center Cougars out of Sacramento.
“We set the tempo of the game,” Escalon head coach Mark Loureiro said, taking the opening kickoff from Center and using up more than four minutes to get the score. It was also the first of five touchdowns for Calton, a junior who rolled up 230 yards of offense on the night.
Escalon stood strong against the visitors and the defense also came through for the Cougars, forcing a couple of turnovers that led to touchdowns.
After Calton got the Cougars on the board, Center took the kickoff and didn’t hang on to the ball for long, Brandon Grogan taking advantage of a fumble recovery that he returned for 29 yards and a score. David Martinez added the point after on both Escalon touchdowns, giving the Cougars a 14-0 lead with 7:27 to go in the first quarter.
Center did answer back, regrouping after a quarterback sack from Javier Perez to convert on a third and 15, the 34-yard pass play good for a touchdown and the kick was good, trimming the lead to 14-7 with 4:13 still to play in the first.
“When they scored their first touchdown, I felt it was important that we came right back and scored on our next possession,” Loureiro said of grabbing the momentum away from the visitors.
With 10:32 to go in the second quarter, Calton scored from 6 yards out and the kick was good for a 21-7 edge.
Grogan got his second fumble recovery of the night and returned it 58 yards just a few seconds later, the kick was good and Escalon led 28-7 with 10:11 to go in the first half. Center pulled to within 28-14 with 8:13 to go on a short rushing touchdown, but then Calton struck for a 12-yard score (kick failed) with 4:02 to go and the Cougars got their final touchdown of the half on a 68-yard run from Calton, set up by a Grogan interception. The kick was good and it was a commanding 41-14 lead for Escalon at the half.
“You could tell, they just had no more fight in them,” Loureiro said of Center after getting bruised and battered through the first half.
They tried to battle back and the teams did play through a scoreless third quarter, with the Cougars going up 48-14 on a 10-yard run from Calton and the kick by Martinez early in the fourth quarter. Loureiro was then able to mix in his second unit starting offense and also worked in some of the JV players brought up for the postseason, giving everyone a chance to get in the game.
Center put one more score on the books late in the contest, scoring on a 23-yard quarterback keeper with 1:30 to play; Escalon then blocked the kick for the 48-20 final.
Calton, the recipient of some great blocking, said he just tried to find the holes.
“It wasn’t one person, the whole line had a great game,” he said. “I was just extremely happy to have them blocking for me.”
Senior A.J. Camarena said the defense provided plenty of momentum with the turnovers, and the offense took the cue.
“The offensive line picked it up,” he said, adding that they will need more of the same as they head into the second round this coming Friday, on the road at Central Catholic.
“We’ve got to be focused, crisp, aggressive,” Camarena said.
Outstanding on defense, senior Grogan praised his head coach for getting the team ready.
“Coach prepared us to our full capability,” Grogan said. “We just seemed to be a lot more zoned in.”
The Cougars, as a team, were definitely zoned in and had 443 yards of total offense, compared to 254 for Center.
Escalon had 20 first downs and ran 61 rushing plays for 424 yards. Quarterback Caleb Mullen completed two-of-three passes for 19 yards and had no interceptions. The Cougars had three penalties for 15 yards and fumbled twice, losing the ball once.
Center had 10 first downs and 25 rushing plays for 139 yards, completing 7-of-15 passes for 115 yards and one interception. They fumbled twice and lost it both times, and had three penalties for 25 yards.
“Our offensive line had one of their best games ever,” Loureiro noted of the winning effort. “We had 424 yards rushing so you know the front is doing their job, guys including Jesse Talamantes, Bo and Blue Capps, Logan Widmer, Andrew Panero, Dustin Lawrence and Marcus Williams.”
Calton exploded off his blocks for 230 yards on 21 carries with five touchdowns, the bulk of his work coming in the first half. Camarena added eight carries for 72 yards, Wesley Dick had tough yards inside, carrying the ball 17 times for 70 yards.
“Off the bench, Luis Estrada had four carries for 34 yards and also Trenton Busch had some good carries,” said Loureiro. “It was great for the kids to all get involved.”
Defensively, Grogan paced the effort with his two fumble recoveries for touchdowns and one interception, while Perez was leading tackler with five tackles and one sack. Chris Pilcher had five tackles as well, and Matthew Gallego and Garrett Nebe each had a sack.
“All in all, as a coach, I was real happy with the effort, happy we got to play one more time at home and the seniors had a chance to win their final home game in front of the hometown crowd,” said Loureiro.
Escalon’s second round match-up is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 21 at 7 p.m., as they travel to Modesto to take on the top seeded Central Catholic Raiders.