Ripon won the coin toss on Friday night to start the game … and that was the first of many things that went the Indians’ way.
By the end of the night, the visiting Indians had handed host Escalon a crushing defeat, 24-10, capitalizing on five Cougar turnovers and landing a blow to the host team’s playoff hopes.
“I’ve played a lot of football, watched a lot of football and coached a lot of football,” said head coach Mark Loureiro. “That was the roughest start to a game I’ve ever seen. You can’t have five turnovers and expect to win.”
The Cougars took the opening kickoff and, after a nice return by Nick DeWeerd, ran just two plays from scrimmage, when the Indians stripped the ball from C.J. Gumbs and returned it 57 yards for a touchdown. The kick was good and with just 49 seconds off the clock, it was 7-0 Ripon.
On the ensuing kickoff, Escalon looked to redeem themselves but on a third down play, it appeared as though Hugo Alcala was down but no whistle was blown and the ball came out, scooped up by the Indians and again, returned for the score, this time from 60 yards out. After the kick it was 14-0 Ripon with 9:52 to go in the first.
After getting one first down on their next series, the Cougar drive was cut short on an interception, which Ripon parlayed into a field goal with 5:42 to go in the opening quarter. Escalon was down 17-0 before some people were even settled in their seats.
Still early in the contest, though, the Cougars found a way to battle back, with some punishing runs by Tim Costa and a huge first down catch from Alcala on the way to a touchdown with 3:06 to play in the second quarter, trimming the lead to 17-7.
“It was a real nice drive, took up 10, 11 minutes,” Loureiro said. “Costa went in on a 1-yard touchdown run.”
After Chance Bollen recovered an Indian fumble with two minutes to go in the quarter, the Cougars turned that into a field goal of their own to go in at the half down 17-10.
“We physically handled that team,” Loureiro pointed out. “But those turnovers will just kill you.”
Hoping they had left the ball handling woes behind, the Cougars looked to cut into the Indian lead as second half play began.
“We used a lot of energy battling back there at the end of the first half,” Loureiro explained. “We just didn’t have enough left.”
Even so, the Cougars recovered three Indian fumbles on the night but didn’t turn them all into points like their counterparts did. They got one fumble as the Indians opened the second half but gave it right back on the second interception of the night.
“It seems like we just find ways to lose,” said a puzzled Loureiro. “You have to play to win, not play not to lose. We just couldn’t overcome those mistakes and win.”
Ripon added just one more score on the night, a touchdown in the third quarter, but it was more than enough for the Indians to take the 24-10 win off the field.
Escalon had 15 first downs on the night compared to eight for Ripon and the home team had 275 yards of offense as opposed to 196 yards for the Indians.
The Cougars had 49 rushing plays for 195 yards and completed eight of 16 passes for 80 yards with three interceptions. They had four fumbles and lost two of them, had two penalties for 15 yards. Ripon had 26 rushes for 95 yards and completed seven of 11 pass attempts for 101 yards. Ripon fumbled three times and lost it each time, they were penalized five times for 60 yards.
“We got a solid game from Tim Costa, 24 carries for 116 yards and a touchdown,” said Loureiro. “Down by two scores, he played really well and rose to the occasion.”
The coach also had praise for his defense, which handled the Ripon offense well.
“The kids played a great game on defense,” said Loureiro. “Tyler Voral had eight tackles and a fumble recovery, Tyler Swinford, Mark DeHaven and Estephan Salcedo all had seven tackles.”
Also, Bo Capps and Chance Bollen each had a fumble recovery and Bollen had a sack, as did Cuyler Crawford.
“It hurts,” Loureiro admitted of losing the home finale to rival Ripon. “This was a pivotal game for the playoffs, the last home game for our seniors; it was a real tough one to lose.”