It is a game head coach Mark Loureiro would rather forget.
The varsity Cougars traveled to Madera to take on Liberty High School on Friday night, Sept. 8 and left bruised, battered and on the wrong side of a 33-27 final score.
Though the teams were fairly evenly matched, a rash of injuries saw Cougar players being helped off the field at regular intervals and a huge penalty against the visiting team turned the tide in the home team’s favor, extending a drive that eventually led to a touchdown.
“A couple calls killed us,” agreed Loureiro of the officiating.
Had the refs been from this Section, the coach said he would request they never do an Escalon game again. But they were from the Southern Section, it was a preseason game and there really is no reason to file a protest, though the coach feels the crucial calls had an impact.
“It’s unbelievable, that one call absolutely changed the momentum,” Loureiro said.
The call, a horse collar personal foul 15-yard penalty called on what appeared to be a clean takedown by Cuyler Crawford also spawned a second unsportsmanlike conduct call on the Cougars, adding another 15 yards for the home team. Had the sack by Crawford been the only call, Liberty would have been pinned deep and forced to punt to Escalon, which had an eight-point lead at the time. Instead, they gained 30 yards, a first down and turned that into a scoring drive.
“They even got a couple calls against them (Liberty) that were bad,” Loureiro pointed out, noting that Escalon wasn’t the only team hurt by the preponderance of yellow flags.
But it was also a lack of tackling, failing to stop the runner on the first tackle, which continued to plague the Cougars and allowed for more than 50 yards of offense by Liberty. The host team improved to 3-0 and defeated Escalon in their home opener. The Cougars fell to 1-2 and also saw plenty of players fall to injury – some feared to be season-ending.
Among the injured were Mark DeHaven, Kaden Christensen, Christian Brunetti and Steven Grossi. Loureiro said he should know the status of the more seriously injured players by midweek.
Injuries and questionable calls aside, the team battled back before falling just a little short. It was a tough game to swallow, said the coach, because there were opportunities to get the win.
“We found a way to lose,” Loureiro said simply. “But we’ve got to tackle better, we have to hold ourselves accountable.”
Hugo Alcala turned in the best game of his varsity career, with 15 carries for 144 yards and a touchdown.
“He also played good on defense, he had eight tackles at the outside linebacker position,” said Loureiro. “Elliott Mello had another good game, 13 carries for 101 yards and a touchdown.”
Before going down with a nasty knee injury, Christensen had a kickoff return for a touchdown, going 91 yards for that score, added another touchdown run of nine yards, caught a pass from Grossi for a 16-yard gain and make 11 tackles on defense.
“Jake Lewis gave us a nice effort on defense, Cuyler Crawford had a couple of sacks, Lucca Dutra had a fumble recovery,” noted Loureiro.
Liberty took the lead with a touchdown in the first quarter, with Escalon scoring three times in the second quarter while Liberty found the end zone once. That saw the Cougars with a 20-13 lead at halftime. Liberty countered with two touchdowns in the third, another in the fourth, while Escalon put one more score on the board in the third quarter, with the final 33-27.
“You hope the kids can bounce back from this,” Loureiro said, noting that the team also felt they had a chance to win taken away.
To get the win, though, Loureiro said they must tighten up on defense and make the big plays on offense when they are there. A couple of dropped passes on Friday night ended promising Cougar drives so Loureiro said the team has to find a way to make the big catches and push forward for the crucial first downs.
“The penalties this week, there were a lot of ups and downs,” admitted senior Jake Lewis. “We just have to come out now, have a really good week of practice. I think a lot of it is us not being able to stop the big play when we need to.”
The defense will re-double its efforts, he said, to make those adjustments before heading off to Galt to play Liberty Ranch on Sept. 15.
“We’ll definitely focus this week,” added Nash Satnat. “Learn from this, get better.”
Liberty had 17 first downs on the night to Escalon’s 14 and had 504 total yards to the 346 rolled up by Escalon. Rushing yards, Liberty ran 46 plays for 473 yards, Escalon 42 for 305. Liberty completed 2-of-6 passes, Escalon 5-of-14 with one interception. Liberty was penalized four times for 45 yards, Escalon six for 65. Liberty had two fumbles and lost one, Escalon fumbled once but got it back.
“You’ve got a right to be disappointed, because you care,” Loureiro told his team in the post-game huddle Friday night before the long bus ride back home. “We can’t quit playing, we can’t feel sorry for ourselves; we’ve got to do all the little things right.”
Escalon will travel to Galt High School to face off with Liberty Ranch in a 7 p.m. contest on Friday.