An up and down season came to an equally up and down end for Escalon’s varsity football Cougars on Friday night, winning their league finale against Modesto Christian 38-14 but failing to make the postseason.
A total of 78 teams will suit up for playoffs, with Escalon one spot short of breaking into that list.
“We didn’t get to the six wins you need to guarantee a spot, and though they did take a couple of 5-5 teams; that was based on the opponent win totals,” head coach Mark Loureiro said of the Cougars just missing out on a Sac-Joaquin Section playoff appearance.
For Escalon, the campaign ended with a .500 mark, going 3-2 in preseason play and going 2-3 in a very evenly matched and tough Trans-Valley League for a 5-5 final record. Even the league losses could have gone either way, the coach noted, with close games against Hilmar and Ripon, including a last second victory by the Indians on their home field in an Oct. 30 game.
“We finished the last three games so strong, it was almost like the kids flipped a switch,” Loureiro said of the team finally getting into a groove late in the season. “They played some good defense and I am proud of the kids for the way they finished.”
After the last-second loss at Ripon on Oct. 30, Loureiro said coaches gave the players Monday off but were extremely pleased with the attitude and energy the team came to practice with on Tuesday. Instead of still being down about the loss to the Indians, the team was focused on finishing out the season strong at home. And that’s exactly what the varsity Cougars did, making the most out of what turned out to be their final game of the year.
“I was real happy to see the seniors win,” Loureiro added. “And all our players got in; you like to see that too.”
Escalon took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, went up 17-0 at the half and extended the lead to 31-0 by the end of the third quarter. Modesto Christian did get on the board with a pair of scores in the fourth quarter but Escalon countered with one of their own and the game was never in doubt, the host Cougars celebrating the end of the season with a 38-14 victory. Modesto Christian ended at 2-3 in league play as well.
“We played football how we expected,” Loureiro said of the final few games of the season. “The kids improved and battled.”
Had there been any breaks that went the Cougars’ way, they could very well be suiting up for a Friday night game this week. But it was a season where they always seemed to be on the wrong end of a break and yet made the most of their final contest, sending the senior players, cheerleaders and parents out with a bang. All the senior cheerleaders and players were recognized prior to kickoff, honored at midfield and joined by parents and, in some cases, siblings and other relatives.
After the presentation of the colors, it was down to business for Escalon, which got on the board first with a 3-yard run from Hunter Calton and the point after by David Martinez in the opening frame.
In the second quarter, Martinez connected on a 34-yard field goal to make it a 10-0 lead, then Tim Costa plunged into the end zone on a 1-yard run with the point after good. That put Escalon up by a 17-0 score at the half.
In the third quarter, Calton burst free for a 77-yard touchdown run, the kick was good to make it 24-0 and the defense came through as well, Cameron Puthoff picking off a Modesto Christian pass and returning it 87 yards for the score, the first touchdown of his career. The kick was good and it was 31-0 Cougars.
Modesto Christian finally got on the board as the fourth quarter wore on, a 31-yard pass play making it 31-6. They went for two but didn’t convert, and Escalon answered the score with a 4-yard run by Tyler Swinford and the kick by Martinez to make it 38-6. The Crusaders tacked on a late score on a 1-yard plunge and made good on the 2-point attempt, ending with a 38-14 final in Escalon’s favor.
“Hunter Calton went out with a bang, he had 15 carries for 159 yards and two touchdowns,” said Loureiro. “The line started blocking well, we got good efforts up front from Daniel Gonzalez, Logan Widmer, Bo and Blue Capps, Tim Wallace, and Dustin Lawrence at tight end.”
And while the O line was making the blocks and opening up the lanes, the defense was having an equally successful night, causing plenty of trouble for the visiting Crusaders.
“Defensively our kids did a great job,” agreed Loureiro. “Dakota Saing had 11 tackles and a sack, Cameron Puthoff had 10 tackles and an interception returned for a touchdown, Lawrence had 11 tackles at inside linebacker.”
Widmer – with an outstanding night on both sides of the ball – added five tackles and a fumble recovery, Tyler Voral and Luis Estrada also had fumble recoveries and both Garrett Nebe and Wyatt Cockrell recorded sacks.
For the game, Modesto Christian had 12 first downs and Escalon had 11, while the host Cougars rolled up 315 total yards of offense to MC’s 292. The Crusaders rushed 39 times for 111 yards and completed 10-of-25 pass attempts for 181 yards and one interception. Escalon had 42 rushing plays for 293 yards, quarterback Dylan Azevedo completed two-of-six pass attempts for 22 yards. Modesto Christian fumbled three times and lost it all three times; Escalon had two fumbles and lost one. The Crusaders were penalized five times for 40 yards, Escalon three times for 30 yards.
Coach Loureiro praised the effort of his players in their post-game huddle on Friday, at that time their postseason fate still unknown. He said they would be a dangerous team in the playoffs, finding their rhythm as the season wound down. Unfortunately, they won’t get the chance to see how far they could ride this new wave in the playoffs.
“All of a sudden the kids hit that button, they just played better and played with confidence down the stretch,” Loureiro said.
Even with the bad breaks during the season, the coach said his team did their part in the finale, winning to at least give themselves a chance for postseason play.
“As coaches, you know over the years those breaks tend to even out but you feel bad for the kids,” Loureiro noted. “Still I was happy to see them go out with a win.”