A defense that played well but an offense that couldn’t find the right rhythm was the formula that sent Escalon to a defeat in its season opener, hosting Los Banos at Engel Field on Friday night, Aug. 30.
The 20-3 final appears more lopsided than the game itself, with Los Banos getting a touchdown in the final minute to add some distance on the scoreboard.
“Both defenses played well,” head coach Mark Loureiro said of his Cougars and the visiting Los Banos squad.
Both offenses, he added, sputtered at times and had difficulty in making connections to sustain drives.
“Los Banos had 116 yards on the night and only four first downs,” Loureiro pointed out. “Forty yards came on the last touchdown.”
Escalon had eight first downs on the night and 153 yards but were only able to get points off the foot of Thomas Diniz, a first half 23-yard field goal. It was missed opportunities, said Loureiro, that hurt the most.
“Being down there three times in the first half,” he said of the red zone, “and we only got a field goal. We’ve got to execute, we can’t afford to make mistakes like that.”
A pair of interceptions killed drives and Loureiro said confusion on the offensive line didn’t afford much protection for quarterback Ben Hood, who was sacked a couple of times.
“We’re very unclear of our blocking assignments on the offensive line,” Loureiro said, summing up the initial Friday night effort. That was something the team planned to work on this week in practice, to make sure the adjustments were made for games going forward.
Loureiro said an injury to Brandon Grogan that kept him out of the game – and likely will keep him on the shelf for the next month – definitely had an impact.
“That took away some offense,” the coach admitted.
The teams played a scoreless first quarter, with Escalon getting on the board first, Diniz connecting on the 23-yard field goal with 10:18 to go in the second. Another drive fell short, the Cougars going for it on a fourth and 12 at the 30-yard line. The pass was intercepted and Los Banos returned it to the 3-yard line, going in from there for the score and the point after to take a 7-3 halftime lead.
Neither team got on the board in the third quarter but Los Banos took the lead for good on an interception, returned for a touchdown, with 9:30 to play in the game. The point after made it 14-3.
Escalon’s Adam Roberson recovered a fumble with 5:37 to play to give his team some life and Frankie Bavaro broke a nice 22-yard run for a first down to keep the drive alive but they weren’t able to convert. Los Banos capped the scoring with less than a minute left on a 36-yard run, but failed on the point after, making the final score 20-3.
Loureiro told his team in the post-game huddle that it is going to take everyone’s best effort – in practice and in games – to get the wins on the books this season.
“We can’t leave the defense out there all the time,” he told his players. “We need to start making each other better in practice. We’ll learn from this, we’re not a good enough team to make mistakes and win.”
He praised his defense for keeping the squad in the game and challenged the offense to make adjustments.
“Don’t let this one loss destroy this,” he said. “We need to use this loss and make ourselves better.”
The coach said playing a 0 week game is tough on a young squad but they will move on and up.
“A.J. Camarena had a great game for us, eight tackles, some big hits,” he pointed out. “Tyler Lawrence had a solid game, he ran hard and had four tackles, Adam Roberson batted a pass down, had a fumble recovery. We also got solid efforts out of Colin Strasser and Luis Estrada.
“My hat is off to kids on the defensive side. Offense, we just sputtered.”
Rushing, Escalon had 39 carries for 92 yards, Los Banos 23 for 85. The Cougars completed just 4 of 14 passing attempts for 61 yards with two interceptions; Los Banos had 3-of-10 completions for 31 yards, no interceptions.
The Cougars fumbled once but held on to it, Los Banos had two fumbles and lost one while they were penalized six times for 55 yards. Escalon had three penalties for 15 yards.
“We just need to come out and work more on our fundamentals,” senior Luis Estrada said following the game, noting both defense and offense can improve.
“We’ve got a whole new group of starters,” added senior quarterback Ben Hood. “We need to come back Monday for practice, be ready for it.”
Senior Josh Redding said he liked the defensive effort but knows there has to be more point production.
“As a team, we need more O line blocking, we need people completing their assignments correctly,” he said. “Our defense fought really hard and I’m happy with that.
“If we all do our assignments correctly, we’ll get there.”
Coach Loureiro agreed, noting that a 0 week loss to a tough opponent – the same way they started the season a year ago – is not the time to get worried.
“Don’t hit the panic button,” Loureiro said. “We’re a young team; we will get back to getting our assignments down, get more kids into the offense, and not leave the defense on the field all day long.”
The Cougars will be back in action on Friday, Sept. 6 playing on the road at Pacheco, in Los Banos.