Whether it was still the sting of having lost a winnable game at Liberty High in Madera the week before or just good old-fashioned Cougar pride, the Escalon varsity football team was not to be denied this week.
They traveled to Galt High School to take on the Liberty Ranch Hawks on Sept. 15 and left town with a satisfying, hard fought 42-6 win.
Escalon kicked off to Liberty Ranch to start the game and held them, forcing the punt. Hugo Alcala found the end zone on the return but it was called back on a penalty against the Cougars. That was one of their few miscues on the night.
Escalon still had possession of the ball and made good on their first possession, with Elliott Mello going in from a yard out. Rodrigo DeMelo put the point after through the uprights for a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
Mello – who played with some lingering anger over the Sept. 8 loss – scored three more touchdowns in the second quarter, going in on an 11-yard run, and two runs of 2-yards each. Just one of the three extra point attempts was good; two had tough snaps to handle.
Escalon went in to the locker room with a 26-0 lead.
“We practiced well Wednesday and Thursday,” said head coach Mark Loureiro. “The three teams we played previously were all physical, we were the physical team this time and it was old style football, we controlled the clock, controlled the line of scrimmage.”
Senior center Stephen Mendez, in the trenches all night, echoed the coach’s sentiment.
“I was blocking good, all the line was blocking good,” Mendez said of the O-line helping provide the opening for Cougar runners. “It felt like old times.”
In the third quarter, the Cougars got a 32-yard field goal from Guillermo Alvarez and two more touchdowns came in the fourth quarter, on a 3-yard run from Jake Lewis, and on an 11-yard run by Frank Leal.
“We had to work better as a team, we needed to finish,” senior Nick DeWeerd said of adjustments the team made in practice this week.
Those changes paid off with the big win.
“As a coach, you feel good when you get to see those seconds score and when the backs are running hard, you know the guys up front are doing their job,” Loureiro said. “And our kicking game was solid, Guillermo had a nice field goal, he sent four kickoffs into the end zone.”
Alvarez also shared the point after duties with DeMelo, each notching a couple.
Mello, Lewis and Alcala handled the bulk of the ball carrying and were able to power past the Hawks defense more often than not.
“We had been struggling, not getting up on teams,” Loureiro said of playing from behind much of the season. “This week, we got the lead, enthusiasm got contagious and we got all the kids into the game.”
Leading tacklers were Nash Satnat with four, Alcala with three. Estephan Salcedo had two interceptions; DeWeerd picked off one Hawks pass.
“We ran 70 plays to their 30,” Loureiro said of the swarming Cougar offense.
Mello had 21 carries for 159 yards and four touchdowns; Alcala had 10 carries for 122 yards and set up a couple of scores. Lewis added 13 carries for 53 yards and a touchdown; Leal had seven carries for 39 yards and a touchdown.
Trent Cummings, Jacob Walden, Cuyler Crawford and Eduardo Marrufo all had good games for the Cougars as well, said Loureiro, along with tight ends Devin Roberson and Satnat making some solid blocks.
“Defensively, we forced them to throw the ball,” Loureiro said, which resulted in three turnovers on interceptions.
Liberty Ranch avoided the shutout with a fourth quarter touchdown, on a 61-yard pass play.
Escalon had 16 first downs on the night and 429 total yards; Liberty Ranch had three first downs and 157 yards. The Cougars rushed 65 times for 398 yards, had 31 passing yards on two completions – one to Max Nicholas and one to Jordan Gwartney, both by Steven Grossi – and the Cougars were penalized nine times for 65 yards. Liberty Ranch had 12 rushing plays for 57 yards, completed just five of 18 pass attempts for 100 yards. They were penalized four times for 50 yards.
Loureiro said the win was one the team needed, and it brought them back to the .500 mark at 2-2.
“I think we just played with more energy,” the coach said. “The weather was a little cooler and I think they were tired of losing.”
This week, Escalon travels to Patterson for the final non-league game of the campaign, with kickoff scheduled for 7:30 p.m.