In the end, speed won out over strength.
Escalon’s varsity football team lined up on the gridiron Friday night against the host Patterson Tigers and fell in a high-scoring 53-34 contest.
“They were just way too fast for us,” Escalon head coach Mark Loureiro agreed. “In that heat, the tempo, there was just too much speed.”
On a day where the temperature topped out over 100 degrees in the Valley, the turf at Patterson High heated up accordingly, reaching roughly 115 degrees on the field for the JV game, dropping slightly for the varsity contest and then finally cooling off once the sun went down.
Patterson was able to strike quickly, taking the opening kickoff and marching down the field to punch one in with 11:07 to play. The point after was no good but the host Tigers had an early 6-0 lead with less than a minute gone in the contest.
Escalon had some fireworks of their own, though, as C.J. Gumbs pulled down the ensuing kickoff and burned his way through the coverage, running the ball back 94 yards to get Escalon on the board. With the kick, Escalon took a 7-6 lead with 10:54 to play.
Patterson scored on an 80-yard pass play with 3:30 to go in the first to lead it 13-7.
Escalon pulled even in the second quarter, after recovering a Patterson fumble, setting up a play that saw Hunter Calton take it in from 5 yards out. The kick was blocked but that made it 13-13.
Two more Tiger scores before the half gave the home team a 27-13 lead at the break.
Making adjustments, the Cougars came out and, on two successive third quarter possessions, tied the score at 27-27. Gumbs pulled in a pass from Dylan Azevedo with 5:19 to play in the third, and Gumbs scored again after the Cougars recovered a fumble, with Gumbs also adding the 2-point conversion with 3:37 to play in the third to tie the score.
“The kids came out and played with more fire in that second half,” Loureiro said. “They did show some great heart. I doubt if we’ll see that kind of speed again, but that experience will help us.”
After getting a break, recovering their own fumble and returning it 76 yards for a score, the Tigers started to pull away, the speed of the team finally proving too much for Escalon to contain. Leading 40-27 after three, the Tigers found the end zone twice more in the fourth while Escalon got in once more, this time Calton going in and the kick good with 3:22 to play in the game.
“CJ was off the charts for us,” Loureiro said of some standout performances in the season opener. “He had a total of 286 yards on punts and kickoff returns and he had a 78-yard touchdown run called back. He caught a touchdown pass, ran for a touchdown, he was just a real pleasant surprise for us.”
Also performing well were Hunter Calton with a total of 27 carries for 152 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Sam Lattig and junior quarterback Dylan Azevedo connected on a couple of passes.
“I felt Dylan played well, this was his first start in a varsity game,” said Loureiro.
Azevedo was four-for-nine for 52 yards with one interception.
The offensive line also settled in during the second half, the effort led by Daniel Gonzalez, Logan Widmer and Blue Capps.
“Defensively, we missed a lot of tackles,” Loureiro said, noting that was one of the downfalls of facing a team with such speed.
Leading the way on the defense was Widmer, six tackles and one sack, along with three forced fumbles.
“He had a great football game,” Loureiro said.
Newcomer Dakota Saing had two fumble recoveries, Gumbs had six tackles on defense, Cameron Puthoff was solid in pass coverage.
“They tired us out,” admitted Loureiro of the Tigers, adding that Timmy Costa came in to pick up some tough inside yards, carrying the ball 15 times for 77 yards late in the game. Chance Bollen and Timmy Wallace also came in and made a difference for the Cougars in the second half.
Patterson rolled up 520 yards on the night to Escalon’s 341, with the Tigers rushing 33 times for 351 yards and the Cougars running the ball 63 times for 289 yards. Patterson passed for 169 yards and a pair of scores, Escalon had 52 yards passing and a touchdown. The Tigers fumbled four times and lost three of them; Escalon fumbled once and lost it. Penalties saw Patterson with five for 50 yards, Escalon three for 25.
“I’m proud of how you played that second half,” Loureiro said in the post-game huddle at Patterson on Friday night. “You played with a sense of urgency, you got better, you played with purpose.”
The coach also reiterated that speed is a tough weapon to contain, and said the experience will make the squad better in the long run.
“We’re not a 10-0 team,” he told the players. “That doesn’t mean we can’t strive to be a 9-1 team.”
Escalon will host Calaveras this week, welcoming the Redskins in on Friday night. The JV game kicks off at 5:30 p.m., the varsity game at 7:30 p.m.