Coming off a much-needed bye week, a Friday night game on the road for Escalon’s varsity Cougars has major postseason implications.
The football team heads to undefeated, league-leading Hilmar for a Trans-Valley League battle and it’s a win the Cougars would love to get, helping cement a berth in the playoffs.
“Six wins guarantees you’re in the playoffs,” said head coach Mark Loureiro.
With a 2-1 record in the TVL and 4-3 overall going in to the Oct. 25 contest, the Cougars have three games left. If they can get a win in hostile Yellowjackets territory, it would forge a three-way tie atop the standings between Escalon, Hilmar and Ripon and also go a long way toward getting the Cougars into the playoffs. A loss means they would have to win their final two games (Modesto Christian, Riverbank) to play into late November.
“We have a lot of motivation working for us,” Loureiro said. “But this is a tall order. Hilmar is 8-0 overall, they are coming off a 33-21 win vs. Ripon.”
The Indians, defending TVL champs, went into the Oct. 19 game undefeated as well, but only Hilmar remained perfect through the contest, coming out 8-0 while Ripon dropped to 7-1.
Escalon was last in action on the road at Orestimba on Oct. 11, getting a chance since that victory to rest up, heal some hurts, and have two weeks to prepare for Hilmar.
“If anybody can pull it off, it’s our program,” Loureiro said, noting that the Cougars have a history of coming up big in games they aren’t supposed to win.
Hilmar, however, has an arsenal of weapons to choose from, starting with junior quarterback Jonathan O’Brien, who comes in at 6-0, 190 pounds.
“He can beat you with his feet and he can beat you with his arm,” Loureiro said.
The Yellowjackets mix it up, combining the pass and the run, with top rusher Bailey Gomes also able to pull in the tosses from O’Brien. Gomes is 5-9, 140. Leading receiver is Tyler Robinson, 6-0, 180 and other favorite targets are Jacob Smith, 6-0, 170 and Breck Smith, 5-7, 160. Additionally, Kenny Camden and Kris Camden line up as wide receivers and defensive backs for the Yellowjackets.
Defensive leaders are linebacker/guard Joseph Bello, 5-11, 210; tackle/defensive end Britten Smith, 6-2, 200 and tackle/defensive end David Bisby, 6-1, 205.
“This group was undefeated as sophomores and it’s a group that works well together,” Loureiro said. “They are tremendously fast on defense; they put you in a lot of match up binds that can go against you … we’ve got our hands full.”
Hilmar would almost assure itself of the league title with a win, Escalon can force the three-way TVL tie if they can sting the Yellowjackets at home.
Game time in Hilmar will be about 7:30 p.m. Friday, with Loureiro hoping for a good showing of fan support from the community, making the trip to cheer on the Cougars in a crucial TVL contest.