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Playoff Run Heads To Hilmar
From left, Josh Redding, Caleb Mullen and Collin Strasser raise their helmets before breaking the postgame huddle on Friday night after taking a first round playoff win by a 37-0 final over Amador. Marg Jackson/The Times

It won’t be easy, but then, the playoffs aren’t supposed to be.

In the second season, when everyone comes in with a clean slate and you win or go home, Escalon made sure they won on Friday night in the opening round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV football playoffs. They took a solid 37-0 victory off the field against Amador (See story, photos in Sports, Page A15) and punched their ticket to the second round.

That’s the good news.

The bad news … the game is a re-match with undefeated Hilmar.

Escalon lost to the Yellowjackets by a 28-14 final on Oct. 25 and will be looking for a little revenge as they head into the Nov. 22 contest on the road. Hilmar completed their season with the Trans-Valley League title in hand and now have an 11-0 record. Escalon, with its first round win over Amador, improved to 7-4.

And while it is a daunting task, Escalon head coach Mark Loureiro said people shouldn’t sell his team short, as long as they do their homework and go in well prepared.

“We need to stop their quarterback,” said Loureiro. “The last time, he had a total of 246 yards by himself, passing and rushing, we need to find a way to contain him.”

Containing Jonathan O’Brien, who comes in at 6-0, 185, has not been easy for any team this season. His favorite target is receiver Tyler Robinson, 5-10, 160.

Liberty Ranch, which fell victim to the Yellowjackets in the first round, scared them early with a 14-7 halftime lead, but ultimately were defeated by Hilmar in a 31-14 final.

Escalon’s defense will have its hands full, and Loureiro said they will also have to contend with middle linebacker Joseph Bello, 5-11, 210, who can be a nightmare for opposing offense.

“He is an excellent football player, the top defensive player in our league,” explained Loureiro.

Other top defenders for the Yellowjackets are linebacker Breck Smith, 5-7, 170; defensive end Bernardo Duran, 6-1, 185; and defensive end David Bisby, 6-1, 205.

Loureiro said Escalon is hitting its stride and is looking to have a different outcome than their first trip to Hilmar this season.

“Everybody is adding a little wrinkle,” he added of making some adjustments for the playoffs.

Game time on Friday will be 7 p.m., with gates open about 5:30 p.m. in Hilmar. As they did for the Amador game, fans are expected to follow the Cougars and offer plenty of support for the team.

“Hilmar is one of the top teams in the section, no doubt about that,” said Loureiro. “For the past five years, there have been many big games between us and Hilmar and I have tremendous respect for their program.”

The teams are also similar in that each is in a one high school town, said Loureiro, and have a proud tradition of success.

“There is a lot of common ground,” he said.

Hilmar is coached by Frank Marques and the team is ranked 215th in the state coming in to the contest.