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Playoff Hopes Disappear With Cougars 33-32 Loss
So Close
Junior Max Nicholas hangs on to the ball after pulling in a pass on Escalons final scoring drive of the game on Friday night at Modesto Christian. The Cougars fell by a 33-32 decision. Marg Jackson/The Times

After taking a 20-7 lead into the fourth quarter, it looked as though Escalon was going to punch its ticket to the football playoffs.

Unfortunately, a determined Modesto Christian squad had other ideas.

Outscoring Escalon 26-12 in the final quarter, the host Crusaders were the ones who solidified a postseason berth with a 33-32 victory during their Senior Night on Friday, Oct. 28.

For Escalon’s varsity squad, it was the late collapse that cost them the chance to move on, the visiting team ultimately running out of gas and unable to contain a couple of top MC athletes, who elevated their game over the final 12 minutes.

“We just played great defense for the first two-thirds of that game,” said head coach Mark Loureiro. “Then we just fell apart in the fourth quarter, we allowed 26 points, we didn’t tackle well, we missed tackles, missed assignments.”

Escalon had a 6-0 lead at the half and were doing a good job of containing the Crusaders through three quarters of the game.

“We missed an extra point early, missed a field goal attempt, then you start chasing points,” Loureiro said.

Even when they got a last minute touchdown to pull within a point in the fourth quarter, Loureiro opted to go for the 2-point conversion and the win.

“I just felt with the touchdown and a little momentum, we could get it,” Loureiro said. “We had two kids miss their blocks, we came up a yard and a half short.”

The reason behind that decision, he added, was because the Cougars hadn’t been able to contain the Crusaders late and he wanted to try for the win in regulation as opposed to taking their chances in overtime.

“This was hard for these kids,” the coach said of his players, who performed at an incredibly high level for three quarters, then just didn’t have enough to finish it off.

“We just find different ways to lose,” Loureiro admitted.

Statistically, the Cougars again proved to be the dominant team but it was the MC machine that dominated in the fourth quarter.

“There were two or three times in the fourth when I felt we could have put them away,” said the coach, noting that every time they got a little breathing room, Modesto Christian struck back.

A long touchdown strike on a fourth and 12, an onside kick that took an MC bounce and was recovered by the Crusaders, just a couple of times when a bounce the other way would have likely resulted in a Cougar win.

Escalon’s first touchdown came in the first quarter, a 4-yard run by Mark DeHaven. The point after was no good, giving Escalon a 6-0 lead.

In the third quarter, Steven Grossi tossed a 28-yard touchdown to Max Nicholas and they went for two but were stopped, building the lead to 12-0. The missed field goal attempt came late in the first half but with a wet ball and a tough snap to handle, the ball barely got off the ground, not nearly high enough for the three points.

Modesto Christian got their first score of the night in the third quarter, adding the extra point to trim the Cougar lead to 12-7. But Escalon answered back, this time on a 3-yard run by DeHaven and Dylan Azevedo tossing the 2-point conversion to Elliott Mello for a 20-7 lead.

“We had some good plays,” Loureiro said, with the team heading in to the final 12 minutes up by a couple of scores.

The Crusaders put the pressure on quickly in the fourth, scoring on a 19-yard run with just a few ticks off the clock, adding the extra point to make it 20-14.

C.J. Gumbs countered that with a 56-yard scoring strike but again the 2-point conversion attempt failed, leaving Escalon ahead 26-14.

From there, an 85-yard touchdown run by MC, extra point no good, made it 26-20 and the Crusaders took their first lead of the night on a rushing touchdown by Chris Brown, adding the kick to go up 27-26 with 4:46 to play in the game. After an Escalon possession resulted in no first downs, Brown found the end zone with 3:30 to play, going in from 5 yards out and the Crusaders went for two, but were stopped short, leading 33-26.

Escalon’s final drive took up most of the remaining time in the game, Mello returning the kickoff to near midfield. A pair of catches by Gumbs, a first down run by DeHaven, and a huge first down catch by Nicholas were all included in the series. After recovering their own fumble and seeing a pass fall incomplete, the Cougars were looking at a fourth and 11 at the 15-yard line with 11 seconds left on the clock.

It was then that Tyler Voral broke free from coverage and raced to the right corner of the end zone, pulling in the pass from Azevedo to make it 33-32 with 2.7 seconds left.

Lining up for the 2-point attempt, the Cougars were stopped just short and had to kick off, the game ending as the Crusaders made the catch and time expired, the home team celebrating while the Cougars could only watch in disbelief as their chance at the playoffs slipped away.

“It’s one of those games that haunts you,” Loureiro said of reliving the missed points over the course of the game. “I thought that last week (against Ripon) was off the charts but this one … I feel for the kids, their effort was there, we just ran out of gas.”

Modesto Christian had 11 first downs on the night, 36 rushing plays for 298 yards and completed 2-of-7 pass attempts for 42 yards, totaling 340 yards of offense. They were penalized seven times for 80 yards.

Escalon had 17 first downs, 51 rushing plays for 306 yards and completed 8-of-17 pass attempts for 87 yards, totaling 393 yards. They were penalized five times for 60 yards.

DeHaven was the leading rusher, 15 carries for 128 yards and two touchdowns, Gumbs had 13 carries for 120 yards and a score. DeHaven stepped up in the absence of Tim Costa, who went out with an injury during the first offensive series of the second half for the Cougars. Escalon’s top receivers were Nicholas, two catches for 33 yards and a touchdown, Voral with two catches for 37 yards and a touchdown. Defensively, Blue Capps had nine tackles, Tyler Swinford had seven and Chance Bollen had six, with Mello recording a sack.

Escalon now has to put this tough loss behind them and gear up for the season finale, aiming to get back in the win column in their last game of the campaign.