It was a relatively short – but successful – road trip on Thursday for the Escalon freshman football team. The squad, 2-0-1, traveled to Tracy to take on Division 1 Merrill West and came home with a convincing 30-13 victory. The young Cougars took advantage of their hosts’ hospitality by scoring twice in a 23-second span to open the game.
Chase Granis recovered a pooched opening kick-off and ran it back 57 yards for Escalon’s first score. A failed PAT made the score 6-0. West then fumbled on their first play following the kick-off, and it was scooped up by Game Captain Frank Leal who returned it 37 yards for Escalon’s second score. Carson Grogan threw to Alexis Jimenez for the two point conversion and a 14-0 lead.
Later in the first quarter, the Wolfpack broke through with a 25 yard TD run, and their successful kick narrowed the score to 14-7. Escalon failed at their next couple of drives, and with just a minute to go in the half had a punt blocked into the end zone where West recovered for a touchdown. A blocked PAT left the score 14-13 at the half.
Escalon dominated the third quarter, scoring at 3:23 on a 1-yard run by Grogan. Brad DaDalt carried the ball in for a two-point conversion and a 22-13 lead.
“Forcing them to have to score twice to beat us with only about a quarter left put us in a really good position,” commented Coach Roger Beeman.
West tried to do that very thing, driving the length of the field and setting up a first and ten at Escalon’s 15 yard line. The Cougars got good pressure on the quarterback who tried to force a pass over the middle. Leal, at his linebacker position, was there again, this time intercepting the pass and returning it 95 yards for a touchdown. Jordan Gwartney’s run on the PAT made the eventual final score 30-13.
West still had eight and a half minutes left to mount a comeback, but a stubborn Cougar defense would bend but not break. The Wolfpack took the entire time to drive the length of the field before they were stalled by the Cougars on the 18 yard line.
“The team played great,” observed Beeman. “We got the early lead but lost focus and momentum after that. 14-13 at the half, with West getting the second half kick-off, meant we had to respond quickly – which we did. The third quarter was huge; we really grew as a team. We stopped their drive and came back with one of our own. Everyone stepped up their game and played the best we have all season.”
The freshmen go back on the road this week, they play at Hilmar on Thursday, Oct. 1.