Less than a minute into Friday night’s game at Patterson, the Escalon varsity Cougars were already down by a 7-0 score. Ultimately, they lost the game by a 31-21 final, battling the host team until the end. They outscored Patterson 21-10 in the second half, but couldn’t make up an early 21-0 deficit.
They kicked off to the Tigers and, after a few plays, were burned by a 54-yard run on a quarterback keeper for the score. The point after attempt was good, for the 7-0 home team lead with 11:05 to go in the opening quarter.
Six minutes later, it was 14-0 Patterson, connecting on a 15-yard pass play with the kick good.
“The kids got caught off guard with their speed, even though we knew it was coming,” head coach Mark Loureiro said.
The team had watched film and knew the Tigers utilized their speed as a weapon but it was too fast and furious for the Cougars to handle in the early part of the game.
Escalon was forced to punt the ball away on their next possession after the Patterson score and the Tigers again struck quickly, this time on a 13-yard QB run, with the kick good. That made it 21-0 with 1:17 left in the opening quarter.
Loureiro said he was concerned that the Cougars might call it an early night, down by three scores early. But they found some pride in the huddle and tightened things up, refusing to let Patterson get in the end zone in the second quarter. The Tigers still held the 21-0 lead at the half, as Escalon didn’t score either, but holding them off the scoreboard for the second quarter provided a bit of a moral victory.
The Cougars decided to battle it out with the Tigers and played a much more solid game over the final two quarters.
“At halftime, we talked about going out and winning a quarter,” Loureiro said. “We wanted to start the game over, play with a little bit of pride. We played better in the second half.”
Patterson kicked off to Escalon to start the second half, trying an onside kick, but Elliott Mello was able to cover it for the Cougars near midfield. They used that good field position to go on their first scoring drive of the night, with Jake Lewis finding the end zone after a four-yard run with 7:04 to go in the quarter. The point after attempt by Rodrigo DeMelo was good, trimming the lead to 21-7.
A late field goal attempt by Escalon in the quarter fell short and then Patterson was driving, scoring a touchdown on the second play of the fourth quarter, going up 28-7.
On Escalon’s next possession, they got back into the end zone, quarterback Steven Grossi laying in a perfect pass to Max Nicholas in the corner of the end zone for the 24-yard touchdown catch. Guillermo Alvarez added the point after to make it a 28-14 game.
On the ensuing kickoff, Jacob Walden made a touchdown saving tackle on the return and the Tigers eventually settled for a field goal, going up 31-14.
Escalon then went on a scoring drive of their own, capitalizing on a 12-yard run by Mello – after a couple more catches by Nicholas – with DeMelo adding the point after for a 31-21 score.
“It felt pretty good, I’m glad to get my team a score,” Nicholas said of his touchdown reception. “We fought back; we didn’t want to get blown out.”
Mark DeHaven, one of this year’s team captains, said the squad decided at halftime that they wouldn’t be steamrolled.
“It’s about pride,” DeHaven said. “That’s a real good team and we came out flat. But this was a good game to have right before league. I think we had a hard preseason, played tough teams.”
Those tough games, DeHaven added, will hopefully pay dividends once the Cougars get into league battles.
Loureiro pointed to several solid efforts on the night, despite the loss to the Tigers.
“Elliott Mello, we get the most out of that 150 pounds; he had 15 carries for 94 yards with a touchdown and eight tackles,” Loureiro said. “Max Nicholas had three catches for 53 yards and a touchdown, he played well. Lucca Dutra had nine tackles, Jake Lewis had a sack, Estephan Salcedo had an interception, his fifth of the year.”
Escalon had 12 first downs and Patterson had 15. The Cougars had 244 total yards, with 47 carries for 191 yards and 53 passing yards; Patterson had 368 yards with 36 carries for 295 yards and 73 passing yards.
Escalon completed three-of-eight pass attempts and was penalized twice for 20 yards. They fumbled once and lost the ball. Patterson completed five-of-11 pass attempts with one interception, was penalized 10 times for 75 yards and did not fumble the ball.
“We knew they would be the toughest team we had faced,” Loureiro said. “The kids could have given up but they didn’t; they played for pride, played tougher and executed a little better in the second half.”
Escalon has a bye this week and compiled a 2-3 mark during the preseason. They will suit up next for the start of Trans-Valley League action, and will go on the road to face Hilmar on Friday, Oct. 6.
“We need this bye week to get healthy,” Loureiro said.