You can’t win if you can’t hold on to the ball.
And that proved to be the biggest problem for Escalon on Friday night.
Pumped up for Homecoming and looking to avenge a road loss last season to the Bear River Bruins, things didn’t go according to plan, as the host Cougars fell in a 28-14 final.
“That’s an excellent football team,” head coach Mark Loureiro said of the Bruins following the Friday night loss. “They are well-coached and when you play a team of that caliber and have three turnovers … you can’t make mistakes against a quality team and expect to win.”
One Escalon turnover set up a Bear River touchdown, one stopped an Escalon drive and the third merely resulted in a change of possession, but they all fueled Bear River’s fire.
Also contributing, said Loureiro, was the difference in team schedules. Bear River was coming off their bye week, not having played a game for two weeks, while Escalon was suiting up for its third game over that same span.
“We played three games within 12 days,” Loureiro said. “It just wore us, our kids played their hearts out, gave us everything they had but you could see they were just exhausted.”
That was particularly true of those players that typically see action on both sides of the ball, the coach said, players including Daniel Gonzalez, Dustin Lawrence, Logan Widmer, Bo and Blue Capps.
“We don’t have a lot of depth, either,” Loureiro noted, with just 33 players suited up for the season.
Escalon had played at home on Monday, Sept. 14 against Bret Harte, traveled on Friday, Sept. 18 to play in Galt against Liberty Ranch, and then were back on the field for the Homecoming game on Friday, Sept. 25.
Winning the toss, the Cougars opted to defer and held Bear River to a short possession. Escalon’s first possession was also short-lived, as was Bear River’s second time with the ball. But on Escalon’s next possession, the first of the turnovers set up Bear River in good field position and they capitalized with a score.
“We answered right back,” Loureiro pointed out. “We got a beautiful run of 37 yards by Hunter Calton.”
That put the Cougars into the end zone and the score was tied 7-7. A second Bruin touchdown in the second quarter – the point after attempt was blocked – put them up 13-7 at the half. C.J. Gumbs picked off a Bear River pass in the closing seconds of the half to stop a Bruin drive.
Neither team got on the board in the third quarter, but Bear River scored one early in the fourth. Still, the home team battled back and pulled within a score on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Dylan Azevedo to Sam Lattig to make it 21-14.
“They punched one in at the end,” Loureiro said of Bear River, converting after Escalon had to go for it on a fourth down and couldn’t get the yardage required for the first down.
“Our kids fought, they battled,” the coach added, but ultimately, the third game in 12 days just didn’t leave them enough in the tank against a team coming in well-rested.
“They are the defending Sac-Joaquin Section D5 champions and I don’t see anybody in D5 down the road, if they stay healthy, that can beat them, they have a chance of repeating,” Loureiro said.
Escalon had nine first downs on the night, Bear River had 11. The Cougars totaled 200 yards, the Bruins 248. The Cougars had 35 rushing plays for 163 yards and Bear River had 32 for 110, Escalon completed four-of-13 pass attempts for 37 yards and two interceptions, Bear River completed nine-of-17 for 138 yards with one interception. Escalon fumbled four times and lost one, Bear River did not fumble. The Cougars had three penalties for 35 yards, Bear River had five for 40.
Calton carried the ball 15 times for 104 yards, Timmy Costa had 13 carries for 68 yards. Azevedo had one touchdown pass, with Lattig pulling in the TD reception.
Dakota Saing and Trenton Busch led the team with nine tackles each, David Martinez had eight and Dustin Lawrence had seven. Logan Widmer added a pair of sacks.
Completing the preseason with a 3-2 mark, Loureiro said the team now has a much-needed break, as they have Oct. 2 off and open up Trans-Valley League play on Friday, Oct. 9 hosting Hughson.
“This is such a needed break, this bye week couldn’t have come at a better time, we need it,” the coach agree