Though the final score saw 10 points more on the visitors’ side of the scoreboard at the end of the game than the home team, Friday night’s Homecoming at Escalon High School offered plenty of room for optimism.
And while the game didn’t deliver a win for the hometown crowd, it did show head coach Mark Loureiro that his varsity squad continues its steady improvement.
“I know it’s a tough one,” the coach told his team in the post-game huddle after the 23-13 loss on Sept. 23. “But I feel better about the next one after seeing the way you played these last two games.”
Escalon had solid efforts against both a tough Liberty Ranch team and this week against Patterson. The Tigers came in at 0-3, after losing to three Division I teams, and hungry for a win. But it took a concerted effort by Patterson to get past the stubborn host Cougars, who wanted the win equally as much.
“We knew we had a tough schedule and it’s showing,” Loureiro said of a 2-3 preseason record for his team. “But the kids gave a complete effort, we’re a couple of plays away from winning that game and that’s a good Patterson team.”
A missed opportunity to pounce on a fumble, a missed fourth down conversion by just inches – those were just a couple of the breaks that didn’t go Escalon’s way on Friday night.
Patterson also used their height to their advantage.
“We’re in the right spot, they just outjumped us,” Loureiro said of some key receptions that kept Tiger drives alive.
Escalon got on the board first, Tim Costa diving in from two yards out. A penalty on the Cougars pushed back the extra point attempt for the second try and it went wide, but the home team was up 6-0. Patterson quickly returned the favor, going on a scoring drive of their own, getting into the end zone on a long pass play. They also got pushed back on the point after attempt and missed, tying the score at 6-6. Each team added another touchdown and got the extra point, heading into the locker room at halftime tied at 13-13. C.J. Gumbs caught a 27-yard pass from quarterback Dylan Azevedo for Escalon’s second touchdown, Rodrigo DeMelo adding the point after.
In the second half, an interception in the end zone by a leaping Patterson defender gave the Tigers the ball and they used a 70-yard pass play and the point after to go up 20-13 with 5:01 to go in the third.
Each team had opportunities and each side made the defensive stops, until the Tigers finally tacked on a late 35-yard field goal for the 23-13 final.
“I felt great at halftime, 13-13, we were competitive all the way,” explained Loureiro. “We created a couple of opportunities, Tyler Swinford recovered a fumble that led to our first score, Nick DeWeerd had an interception that set up our second score.”
Patterson had 16 first downs on the night and Escalon had 22. Total yards were 368 for the Tigers, 136 rushing and 232 through the air on 10-of-20 pass completions. Escalon had 348 yards, 51 rushes for 243 yards and 9-of-16 pass completions for 105 yards. Patterson had three fumbles and lost one, Escalon did not fumble the ball. The Tigers had seven penalties for 60 yards, Escalon had three for 25.
Costa had 21 carries for 82 yards and Jake Lewis, coming on strong when Gumbs went out after twisting his ankle at the start of the second half, had 13 carries for 60 yards. Hugo Alcala added eight carries for 57 yards, Gumbs had six carries for 47 yards.
On the night, Max Nicholas pulled in five passes for 50 yards, Gumbs had four catches for 65 yards.
“We blocked well up front,” added Loureiro. “And our defense played well.”
Defensively, Alcala had eight tackles, Swinford had seven tackles and a fumble recovery, with seven tackles from Elliott Mello, seven tackles and a sack by Blue Capps. Estephan Salcedo also came in off the bench to play some solid minutes.
One of this year’s team captains, Capps said though it was disappointing to take a loss on Homecoming, the season really starts with league play.
“I think the biggest thing is to stay healthy,” he said. “We’re staying positive and playing a lot better since the Calaveras game. We’re coming back hard.”
Fellow captain Swinford agreed.
“We’ve got this bye week to get ready for league,” Swinford said. “We’re there, we’re playing good team defense, now we just need to convert those plays, get those first downs.”
Wins in the preseason came against Enochs and Liberty High for Escalon, while losses came to Calaveras, Liberty Ranch and Patterson.
“I’m feeling good about this all of a sudden,” Loureiro said. “We’ve got two weeks to get healthy, prepare a game plan for Hilmar.”
Every Trans-Valley League team has a bye this week, with league play starting on Friday, Oct. 7.
“Hilmar looks to be the class of the league, after that, it’s pretty equal,” Loureiro noted. “The top three teams go to the playoffs, we’ll see what happens.”
Escalon will open the league campaign at home, hosting the Yellowjackets on Oct. 7.