That’s how head coach Mark Loureiro described the feeling that still lingered through the weekend, coming off a last-second touchdown by host Ripon that sent the varsity football Cougars to defeat on Friday night.
After Escalon had taken a 15-12 lead late in the fourth quarter, Ripon answered with a drive of their own, capped off with a four-play sequence with no timeouts and less than 30 seconds on the clock, the final play a pass to the corner of the end zone hauled in with one hand, secured by the Indian receiver as he tumbled to the ground, crushing Escalon as he went.
“Us coaches got together (Sunday) and it’s just a bummer feeling, I’m just gut sick,” admitted Loureiro. “It’s pretty tough, to have it snatched out of your hands.”
The final sequence saw plenty of scrambling on both sides of the ball and some admittedly questionable clock running by the operator.
“It’s impossible to run four plays in 28 seconds,” Loureiro said of a team with no timeouts left on the clock. “In watching the film, the officials were doing their best, trying to get the clock wound but they couldn’t get the clock guy to get it started.”
Compounding the issue was the clock stopping to “undo the pile” after a tackle, said Loureiro.
“You don’t think those seconds are going to be that important,” he said.
But Friday night, they were, as Ripon had time – many would argue extra time – to get off the final snap and get the game-winning touchdown on their Senior Night and stay undefeated in Trans-Valley League play.
“Take nothing away from Ripon,” Loureiro said of the players the Indians put on the field. “Their quarterback made a nice play on a fourth down, scrambling for the first, their receiver Duxbury made a beautiful catch at the end … but it’s a play that should never have happened.
“We were hostage to the situation.”
For Escalon, the loss nearly extinguishes their playoff hopes. They have one game remaining, their Senior Night hosting Modesto Christian on Friday. Escalon has to win and have a couple of other teams lose to sneak into the playoffs.
“It hurts us bad for the playoffs,” Loureiro admitted of the 18-15 loss, which dropped Escalon to 1-3 in TVL action, 4-5 overall.
Even in the loss, which many players took hard, shedding tears in the postgame huddle, Loureiro had nothing but praise for the heart and effort.
“We fought and scrapped the whole time,” he said. “This was a hard fought battle, a great high school football game.”
He also told the players that the game against Ripon brought out the fight he has been waiting to see in them all year, reaching down to that next level to come up with a superlative effort.
But on this night, even that wasn’t enough.
“A lot of it was just bad luck,” the coach said. “The ball never bounced our way.”
Case in point, an Indian fumble near the goal line with just seconds remaining that couldn’t be covered by the Cougars. Another Ripon miscue bounced right back to the player that lost it, never breaking stride, turning the would-be turnover into a gain.
“You feel for the kids,” added Loureiro. “When you win it, you have some things go your way … that just didn’t happen.”
Escalon also lost outside linebacker and kicker David Martinez in warm-ups; he was able to come on to kick one extra point but that was all the action he saw. Loureiro praised the effort of his back-up.
“Tyler Voral stepped in and played very well,” the coach said. “We also just had an outstanding defensive effort, Dakota Saing had eight tackles, Garrett Nebe had seven tackles, Dustin Lawrence had seven tackles and a sack, Nebe and Logan Widmer also had sacks.”
Offensively, Tim Costa carried the ball 22 times for 87 yards and both Cougar touchdowns, with Martinez adding the point after one time and Costa taking in the 2-point conversion on the other. Sam Lattig had two catches for 29 yards on the night.
Neither team scored in the first quarter, though Escalon and Ripon each scored in the second. The Indians struck first, making good on a blocked punt, the ball going out at the 1-yard line. They converted but the point after was no good, for a 6-0 lead.
Escalon answered back, the score set up by a 51-yard run by C.J. Gumbs, a pass from Dylan Azevedo to Lattig, followed up by a 3-yard run by Costa to the end zone. The kick was good and it was 7-6 Escalon.
In the third quarter, a 5-yard run from Ripon, 2-point conversion failed, put the host team up 12-7.
Fourth quarter action saw Azevedo link up with Hunter Calton on a big pass reception and run to the 1-yard line, Costa took it in and followed with the conversion, putting Escalon up 15-12 with a little over three minutes to play.
After the kickoff, the Indians methodically marched down the field, culminating with the game-winning drive as time expired.
Escalon had 11 first downs on the night to Ripon’s eight, and 230 total yards to Ripon’s 202. Rushing saw Escalon with 39 plays for 165 yards, 65 passing yards on 4-of-11 passing with one interception. Ripon had 32 rushing plays for 153 yards, 49 passing yards on 8-of-16 with no interceptions. Escalon had five penalties for 50 yards, Ripon had eight for 80.
“It was a quiet bus ride home,” Loureiro said of the gut-wrenching loss. “There really are no words to say to explain the disappointment.”