In the lore of Escalon High football games, this one will go down as yet another classic.
A desperation, last second, final play of the game scramble and toss by senior quarterback Ben Hood found its target – Christian May – waiting in the corner of the end zone and the completed pass gave the Cougars a 35-33 victory over host Pacheco on Friday night.
“We drew the play in the sand, Ben rolled right under a lot of pressure, dodges a tackle, is running left, throws all the way back across his body to Christian May, a 42-yard pass to the back end zone corner and the celebration began,” head coach Mark Loureiro said of the thrilling, dramatic, come-from-behind win.
“We were talking about all the great games in the past, all the times we’ve said ‘you can’t beat this one’ and this ranks right up there.”
The game was not only a stellar team effort by the Cougars, but a huge confidence boost for a team looking to click in the early going this preseason. They lost at home to Los Banos to start the season, but coach Loureiro said a lot of the issues they saw there were addressed in practice and were not a concern in the Sept. 6 victory.
Escalon scored in the first quarter, Pacheco countered with 19 unanswered points in the second to take the halftime lead. But the Cougars were a score better in each of the third and fourth quarters, cementing the win with the final drive of the game.
“This was a major win for the kids’ confidence, it was a wild one,” said Loureiro.
Escalon’s first score came at the end of a nice 10-play drive, Frankie Bavaro capping it with a 4-yard run and the kick for the point after good by Thomas Diniz. Then Pacheco put up 19 points in the second and the Cougars adjusted at halftime, knowing they would get the ball to start the third quarter.
“We started looking at it like win this quarter, or win the next five minutes,” Loureiro said of breaking down the contest. That strategy was rewarded with another score, a 2-yard run by Bavaro to finish off an 11-play drive to start the third quarter, Diniz adding the kick to trim the lead to 19-14.
“Then they came in with three plays and scored to go up 26-14,” Loureiro said.
Not to be outdone, the Cougars answered back, this time a 20-yard pass from Hood to Jacob Salvador for the touchdown and the point after, down 26-21.
That was the last play of the third quarter, keeping the Cougars within striking distance.
“In the fourth quarter, there was good defense, we exchanged punts, we got a nice stop and then Ben hit Christian for a 40-yard touchdown pass and Christian ran in the 2-point conversion to put us up 29-26 with four minutes to go,” Loureiro said.
The elation of that score was deflated just a few minutes later, as Pacheco drove the field and scored, tacking on the extra point, for a 33-29 lead with just 40 seconds left in the game.
On the ensuing kickoff, it went through the end zone so the Cougars had to start at the 20-yard line.
“We had no time outs,” Loureiro said of the daunting task ahead of them.
After an incomplete pass, Hood hit Josh Redding for 21 yards and a first down. Another incomplete pass followed and with 18 seconds left, Hood gained five or six yards but wasn’t able to get out of bounds. With time running out, he took the snap and spiked the ball, with 1.5 seconds left.
That’s when the play was drawn up, the final snap, roll, throw and catch seeming to be in slow motion, as the Cougars emerged victorious and the Pacheco team and crowd watched in stunned silence.
“The momentum swung about four times in that fourth quarter,” the coach said. “They let us hang around, we got a chance, a miracle chance against a very good team.”
The Cougars did a much better job tackling on defense and opening up the holes on offense, with great games out of Lance Davis, Luis Estrada, Clayton Akers, Adam Roberson and tight ends Jacob Salvador and Zachary Withrow.
“We just looked more in sync,” Loureiro explained.
May rushed 11 times for 56 yards and had four catches for 91 yards to lead the offense.
Bavaro rushed 11 times for 49 yards, Wesley Dick, 8-for-32 and Tyler Lawrence, 6-for-31.
“Ben Hood, it was a big game for him, he was 7-for-9 (passing) for 154 yards and three touchdowns,” Loureiro said of his quarterback. “This was big for him, did a lot for his confidence, we need that as he is a senior leader and one of our captains.
“It was a great effort, he was able to lead us to the victory.”
Colin Strasser had 13 tackles, Davis 11, May 10 and Redding nine in a well-rounded defensive effort.
Pacheco had the edge in first downs, total yards, rushing and passing yardage, but were penalized seven times for 70 yards, while the Cougars were penalized just twice, for 20 yards.
“We were disciplined,” agreed Loureiro. “This wakes us up, gets us ready.”
The Cougars, now 1-1, host Linden on Friday night, Sept. 13 at Engel Field at 7:30 p.m.