A touchdown and a safety, both in the second quarter, staked Ripon to a 9-0 halftime lead Friday night in Escalon.
But the second half typically belongs to the Cougars and – after some soul-searching in the locker room – the host varsity squad came back to take a 14-9 win in a Halloween ‘Fright Night’ game, improving to 4-0 in Trans-Valley League play.
Many fans, clad in the specially designed Halloween-themed T-shirts promoting the Escalon-Ripon rivalry game, braved the elements and turned out for Senior Night festivities and the crucial TVL showdown. Played in a steady rain, it was tough for either side to sustain drives, but the Cougars found a way to get the win.
“We really felt we shot ourselves in the foot a few times and got no breaks in that first half,” said head coach Mark Loureiro of falling behind their opponent.
But making some adjustments on both sides of the ball, aimed at getting a better push, helped turn the tide.
“Our defense gave them nothing all night long,” the coach added of a stellar game plan by the Cougar defense. “Their points came off a fumble and a bad snap that led to a safety.”
Offensively for Ripon, the numbers are staggering – Escalon held the Indians to a total of two first downs and 12 yards on the night.
“We were confident in our defense, we just needed our offense to catch a break in that second half,” Loureiro said.
On Escalon’s second possession of the third quarter, senior quarterback Caleb Mullen found A.J. Camarena with a huge 26-yard pass completion to set up a 14-yard scoring run by Hunter Calton. On the extra point attempt, the snap was bad and a creative Mullen protected the ball and tossed it back to kicker David Martinez, who alertly ran it in for the 2-point conversion. That made it 9-8 Ripon in the third and Escalon took the lead for good with a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Ripon, forced to punt with about seven minutes left in the game, couldn’t contain Brandon Grogan, who broke one for 72 yards, pulled down just short of the end zone. Wesley Dick then took it in from a yard out to make it 14-9 and the Cougars went for two but were stopped short.
Still, Ripon could not get anything going on offense and the Cougars were able to hang on for the win.
Calton had 21 carries and caught one pass for 10 yards. Cameron Puthoff had an interception that he returned for 35 yards and Grogan had the huge punt return to set up the go-ahead score.
“Hunter Calton started wearing them down,” Loureiro added of the Ripon defense getting tired as both teams tried to maintain footing and momentum on the sloppy field.
“The field muddied out and neither team could really pass,” said Loureiro. “It cut the playbook in half; we had only three or four plays we could go to.”
Defensively, Javier Perez had eight tackles, one sack and batted down a pass. Garrett Nebe had five tackles, a sack, a fumble recovery and batted down a pass. Travis Nascimento had a sack, Matthew Gallego had a sack and also had one huge hit that forced a fumble, recovered by JoJo Dutra.
“Our defense played great, we held them to no first down and minus 30 yards in the second half, they had just two first downs and 12 yards total,” Loureiro said. “We had 106 yards ourselves.”
Escalon had six first downs on the night and had 43 rushing plays for 62 yards and completed three of seven pass attempts for 44 yards. They were penalized two times for 15 yards, had no interceptions and lost one of six fumbles. Ripon had two first downs, rushed 32 times for 12 yards and had no pass completions on five attempts with one interception. They were penalized seven times for 50 yards and lost two of two fumbles.
“I felt we really had an advantage in the second half with our offensive line, getting the push,” said Loureiro. “And I was so proud of the defense, guys like Javier Perez and Chris Pilcher at outside linebacker, Travis Nascimento had a great game on the inside and the secondary and special teams played well.”
Senior Matthew Gallego, who has been frustrated in the past by losing to Ripon, said getting the win against the Indians was crucial.
“We had an awesome week of practice,” he said, noting that falling behind wasn’t in the plan. “Halftime was very emotional. We knew we had to pick it up.”
A satisfying win, he said, and one that the Cougars had to have to stay in the hunt for the crown.
“We knew we had to get these guys,” added fellow senior Brandon Grogan. “It was the best week of practice we have had and it was great tonight, the sideline was in it, the fans in the stands were in it … now we have to get ready for next week.”
The win lifted Escalon to 4-0 in Trans-Valley League play and they close out the regular season with a trip to 4-0 Modesto Christian on Friday to battle for the league title.