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Miracle Comeback Falls Just Short For Cougars
Take nothing away from Ripon. They played hard. They played well.

But Escalon very nearly pulled off an amazing comeback win, trailing 28-7 with just nine minutes left to play in Friday night's Trans-Valley League opener for both schools. With Father Peter from St. Patrick's Catholic Church suddenly appearing on the sidelines, rosary beads in hand and accompanied by head football coach Mark Loureiro's wife Lisa, the two summoned all the help they could through prayer and supplication. Believe it or not, with four minutes to go, the game was tied at 28-28.

Ripon, though, had a miracle of its own to bring out, connecting on a fourth and long that went for a touchdown to put them up 34-28 with a minute to play. The Cougars blocked the point after to keep the deficit at six, and a huge return by Josh Redding - setting his team up at the 35-yard line -gave the home team one last chance.

The final series of plays got Escalon to the 16-yard line as time expired, falling just short as the visiting Indians leapt skyward in jubilation. It was the first time in nearly 20 years that Ripon has gotten the better of Escalon on the varsity football field.

"I thought that we played good football, except for about nine minutes from late in the third quarter on early into the fourth," said coach Loureiro. "For that period, we didn't play smart, we didn't execute, we just looked lost.

"Ripon, they were 4-for-4 on fourth downs and two of them went for touchdowns."

It truly was a tale of two halves, as Escalon took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter and the game stayed there for the entire first half. The home team had the one touchdown lead going into the locker room.

"We had chances in that first half to extend the lead," said Loureiro. "We just couldn't make the clutch play when we had to."

Ripon took the opening kickoff and did manage one first down on the series but had to punt the ball away, with the Cougars seeming to set the tone with a nice drive that included a major gain from Jason Robbins (1 catch, 21 yards; 14 carries for 113 yards) and the first of four Nathan Chunn touchdowns on the night. Chunn rumbled in from 52 yards out and Thomas Diniz added the point after for a 7-0 Cougar lead.

"Then it was just back and forth for the rest of the half," said Loureiro, with the teams trading possessions and punts.

Escalon got the second half kickoff but uncharacteristically stalled, unable to make anything happen on their first possession of the half. With a fourth and one at the 45, they went for it on the opening drive but fell short and Ripon capitalized on the good field position with a score on a 24-yard touchdown pass on the second play from scrimmage. The extra point was good to knot it at 7-7.

"That pass came on a fourth and 10," Loureiro noted.

The next score came on a deflection, with Escalon's Alec VonAlvensleben able to get his hands on the ball to bat it away; instead it was tipped up and the Ripon player was in the right spot to pull it in and race away for an 80-yard strike. With the kick, it was 14-7 Ripon.

Before the Cougars could regroup, it was 21-7, Ripon taking advantage of an interception and cashing in on a 17-yard run by Josh McCreath and the point after for the growing lead.

Escalon was stopped on its next possession and a 57-yard run by Ripon and the point after made it 28-7 with nine minutes to go in the game.

"It looks like they are out, down 28-7, a lot of teams would have stopped playing," Loureiro said of his squad. "It took a lot of character and just when you think we're out of it, we rip off the next three scores."

That tied it up at 28-28 with four minutes to go, maybe with a little divine intervention courtesy of Father Peter and Co.

Escalon got a 3-yard run from Chunn, the Cougars recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff to set Chunn up again, this time from a yard out, and after a defensive stop, Phillip Kimble hit Chunn with a 5-yard pass in the end zone. Diniz added the point after each time and it was a brand new game.

Ripon's next possession saw them take the lead back, on a fourth and 5; a 39-yard pass play for the touchdown put them ahead. Two or three Cougars got up high enough to deflect the point after attempt and Josh Redding's 51-yard kickoff return gave the Cougars momentum.

"We got down to the 16 before we ran out of time," said coach Loureiro, with the Cougars driving until the end. They failed on a fourth down play and Ripon had to take one final snap before the celebration for the Indians could begin.

"It was crazy, the first half was a defensive battle, the second half was an offensive shootout," Loureiro said. "We had seven points scored in the first half, 54 points in the second half."

Chunn had 29 carries for 165 yards and three touchdowns, caught three passes for 19 yards and a touchdown.

Alan Gonzalez and Joey Gutierrez got high marks for work on the offensive line, with the Cougars piling up 392 yards.

Defensively, Max Hernandez caused the fumble that led to a Cougar score, with Johnathon Costa leading the way in tackles with 10. Lance Davis had eight, Gonzalez had seven, while Justin Camara had a fumble recovery.

Junior Lance Davis said having the comeback fall short left a bitter taste.

"I'm so hungry (for wins) now, I don't want to lose any more games this season, this feeling sucks," he said.

Senior Robbie Steves agreed.

"We couldn't give up as a team, we're a family and we're going to play to the last second," Steves said, noting that as tough as it is, the team has to put this down as just one loss and move on. "We look forward, we have to get ready to play the next game."

Loureiro pointed out the parity in league this year and said he doubts that any team will get through unscathed.

"This was for sure a disappointing loss but we've got to rally back," he said. "Hilmar got knocked off this week by Modesto Christian, the power teams aren't as good as they have been, the rest of the league has stepped up."

Escalon travels to Hughson this week, which lost to Summerville 35-34 as they had a league bye on Sept. 21. The Huskies are 3-1 and are led by running back Tanner Duron (5-9, 165), who rushed for over 200 yards against Summerville and running back Andrew Ocegueda, 5-9, 170. Quarterback is Kyle Kerlee, 6-0, 170, a mobile signal caller, and top defenders are Justin Denio, linebacker, 6-0, 190 and lineman David Lopez, 6-5, 255.

"It's a big game for us," Loureiro said of the Sept. 28 road game at Hughson. "It's my firm belief that no one will go through this league undefeated. We've got to get this game on the road and move forward from there."