There were plenty of things the Escalon varsity football team did right on Friday night. But the sum total of their actions did not add up to a win.
Hilmar, defending Trans-Valley League champions, came in and took a 24-10 win off the field against the host Cougars in the TVL opener for both squads.
Winning the toss, Escalon opted to kick off and were strong on the first series, holding Hilmar to a three and out.
The home team, however, couldn’t do much with their first possession either and the teams traded the ball a couple of times until the Yellowjackets broke through for the score. Cody Rentfro went 55 yards for the touchdown, shaking off some would-be tacklers and then turning on the speed when he hit the open field. The point after was good, giving Hilmar a 7-0 lead with 5:43 to go in the opening quarter.
Not to be outdone, the Cougars went on a drive and were able to find the end zone with a minute left in the quarter, Tim Costa pounding it in from 2 yards out and Rodrigo DeMelo adding the point after for a 7-7 tie.
Just when it looked as though Hilmar was going to answer back, a hard hit by Cuyler Crawford forced a fumble and he recovered it, stopping the Yellowjackets drive.
“I am proud of these kids,” head coach Mark Loureiro said of his players. “We knew it was a tough three game stretch (Liberty Ranch, Patterson, Hilmar) and we got better each time. We were playing without C.J. (Gumbs) and when you go in without your best running back, receiver, defensive back and return guy, you figure that’s got to be worth at least 14 points.”
Other players stepped up in the absence of Gumbs, with Costa and Jake Lewis pounding out some very tough yardage, Max Nicholas coming on to make some key catches.
“I think the kids rallied hard,” Loureiro added of the team coming together once they knew early in the week that Gumbs would not be able to suit up for the TVL opener. “Each kid took it upon themselves to work harder.”
Hilmar was able to just cash in a late 22-yard field goal in the second quarter, taking a 10-7 lead into the locker room at halftime.
“We took two 15-yard penalties on that drive,” Loureiro added of helping the Yellowjackets’ cause. Tyler Swinford was also ejected from the game during that series, for retaliating against a Hilmar player.
He also has to sit out the team’s next game, against Mountain House on the road this week.
“Down just 10-7 at halftime, our hearts were into it, we felt, let’s see what we can do now,” noted Loureiro. “I think with C.J. in, we have a chance to win that game.”
Hilmar may also have been taken a little aback by the tough approach of the Cougars, who were relentless in their pursuit of the ball. The Yellowjackets, with the majority of their players back from last year, were able to score two touchdowns in the third quarter, one on a 7-yard rush and one on a 10-yard reverse. Both extra points were good, putting the visitors up 24-7.
Escalon got back on the board with a 32-yard field goal from Guillermo Alvarez, up from the JV team, to make it 24-10, late in the fourth.
But the Cougars couldn’t get any closer, falling in the league season opener.
“The stats were pretty close, this was a very competitive game,” noted Loureiro.
Hilmar had 12 first downs, Escalon had 11. Total yardage was 299 for Hilmar, 203 on the ground and 96 through the air. They also had seven penalties for 60 yards, fumbled twice and lost it once. Escalon had 232 total yards, 43 rushing plays for 173 and eight pass completions for 59 yards. The Cougars had four penalties for 45 yards and fumbled once, losing the ball.
“Defensively, Cuyler Crawford is getting better every day, he had seven tackles and a fumble recovery, Chance Bollen had eight tackles and a sack,” Loureiro said.
Linebacker Elliott Mello had eight tackles, Mark DeHaven had seven and Blue Capps added five tackles on the night.
“We were right there,” Loureiro said of giving Hilmar a tough battle.
Offensively, quarterback Dylan Azevedo was 8-for-10 for 59 yards. Max Nicholas caught four passes for 47 yards, leading rushers were Tim Costa, 17 carries for 91 yards and a touchdown, Jake Lewis had 16 carries for 57 yards.
“All in all, we were right there in that game,” Loureiro reiterated. “Hilmar is the best team in league and we made them work for it.”