If this game was the midterm exam, Escalon passed.
Now they just have to keep it going.
The varsity Cougars traveled to Hughson to kick off the Trans-Valley League campaign and came away with a 35-20 win, shaking off a lackluster final preseason performance and a bye week.
“That was major,” coach Mark Loureiro admitted. “We talked as coaches beforehand, we thought this could be the turning point of our season and the kids responded, we had a pretty good week of practice.”
Loureiro said the team, which performed poorly in a 14-7 preseason finale at Bear River, was eager to get back on the field after taking that loss and not having a game on Oct. 3. Overall, he was happy with the effort and very pleased with the outcome.
“We just missed a few open field tackles,” he said of letting Hughson stick close in the early going.
Escalon had a 7-0 lead after one quarter and the teams were knotted at the half, 14-14, Hughson punching through a late score in the second quarter to draw even. But some halftime adjustments saw the Cougars come out more determined and they outscored Hughson 21-6 over the final two periods.
“We had 19 rushing first downs, 318 yards on the ground, we had a few kids that really stepped up,” said Loureiro.
Hunter Calton had 21 carries for 167 yards, Wesley Dick had 25 carries for 102 yards and three touchdowns.
“A.J. Camarena had an all-around great game, he had eight carries for 55 yards and a touchdown, three catches for 43 yards and a touchdown,” Loureiro noted. “He had 11 tackles on defense, a major big night for him.”
The Cougars’ offensive line took over in the second half, keeping the Cougars on the attack.
“Jesse Talamantes, Logan Widmer, Andrew Panero, Bo and Blue Capps, Dustin Lawrence, they just took over,” Loureiro said. “Caleb (Mullen) played well at quarterback, he was five-for-10 for 66 yards, one for a touchdown and three were for first downs.”
Kudos also went to Sam Lattig, who had a key first down catch and blocked well from his split end position, also coming up with a couple of key tackles.
“Defensively, I was happy, except for about a four-minute span where we let them score,” the coach said.
Travis Nascimento had 13 tackles on the night, Javier Perez had 10 tackles and a sack, with nine tackles from David Martinez. Chris Pilcher, Daniel Gonzales and Garrett Nebe each had a sack.
Calton, getting a chance to share some of the workload due to the injury to Christian May, was happy to contribute.
“It was a great feeling to come down here and get out there,” he said, adding that he was nervous for the first few plays but then settled in.
Camarena said it was important to come back strong.
“That Bear River game really hurt us,” he said of having to think about the loss for two weeks. “That’s way too long not to play … I think we had a great first quarter, a great effort to start this game and that helped us a lot.”
Added Dick: “We knew we had to bounce back for our first league game, it felt great to start 1-0 in league.”
Mullen said he was well protected throughout the night and had plenty of time to see plays develop, able to read the Hughson defense well and make the right decisions.
“It was really important to win, not dig ourselves into a hole,” he said.
Escalon had 384 total yards to Hughson’s 258, there were no interceptions, no fumbles.
“I really want to thank the people, it was packed and it felt like it was a home game,” Loureiro said, appreciating the fans making the trip. “We notice their support; I want them to realize that.”
For the Cougars, starting 1-0 was the goal, but now they have to prepare for a Hilmar team that lost to Ripon and will come in extra hungry.
“They are 2-4 overall, 0-1 in league but don’t let the record fool you,” Loureiro said of Hilmar. “They are coming in almost in a ‘must win’ situation.”
The Cougars will have to be well prepared, said the coach, and ready for the battle Hilmar is sure to give them.