It was a rematch of a game from 2019. The difference was, this time, it was at home.
But the outcome was the same, as the Escalon Cougars roughed up the Pleasant Valley Vikings of Chico to claim the NorCal 4-AA trophy on Friday night. Not only did the 42-20 victory give Escalon its 12th win of the season against three losses, but it also secured them a berth in the state championship game. Escalon will host Northwood of Irvine, winner of the SoCal 4-AA bowl game, and the two will do battle for the ultimate prize, the state title. The game will be hosted at Engel Field on Saturday, Dec. 10 at 6 p.m.
With a large crowd packing Engel Field for the Friday, Dec. 2 NorCal contest, the Cougars lost the toss but made the visiting Vikings pay for the decision to kick off to the home team. They scored on their first drive of the game.
“It was a 16-yard pass from Donovan Rozevink to Owen Nash,” head coach Andrew Beam said of the strike, which came early in the first quarter. Talan Reider added the extra point for a 7-0 lead.
In the second quarter, Logan Anderson found the end zone on a 3-yard touchdown run, kick good, as the Cougars went up 14-0 and they made it 21-0 on a 13-yard touchdown catch by Anderson from Rozevink, point after good.
“We were so close to putting that team away,” Beam said of the three-score advantage.
The Vikings, though, burned the Cougars on the ensuing kickoff, the runner finding a seam and bursting through to convert on an 88-yard kickoff return. The point after made it a 21-7 game heading in to halftime.
“That was frustrating,” Beam admitted of allowing the late second quarter score, especially since Pleasant Valley would get the ball to start the second half.
That’s when the defense really turned it up a notch, however, and held Pleasant Valley out of the end zone for the third quarter. Escalon scored a pair of touchdowns in the frame, a 21-yard run from Anderson and a 31-yard run by Ryker Peters, who went over the 2,000-yard mark during the game.
That made it a 35-7 Escalon lead with one quarter to go. The Vikings got a 1-yard rushing touchdown early in the frame but failed to convert on the 2-point attempt, so they trailed 35-13. Escalon then put the exclamation point on the contest with another series anchored by the powerful Peters.
“He had five straight carries on the drive for 62 yards and capped it with a 35-yard touchdown run,” Beam said.
With Reider’s point after, it was a 42-13 lead. Pleasant Valley would tack on a late score against the second defensive unit, with a 1-yard plunge, and added the point after for the 42-20 final.
Senior Ayden Wilson couldn’t be happier that the NorCal win puts the Cougars into the state championship game.
“It means everything to us … it’s the same group of boys that’s been playing together our whole lives and this was the end goal all the time that we played; this is where we wanted to be, now we have the opportunity and we have to seize it.”
For Peters, who celebrated the 2,000-yard mark, he said it just makes him hungrier for more.
“This is so amazing but the job’s not finished … to have it (state game) back here at ol’ Engel, couldn’t ask for anything more,” Peters said. “I want more for the team. Two-thousand yards is amazing but I am nothing without my team. I said that the first game and I will continue to say it until we finish this out.”
“This is a really crazy experience, I think all of our hard work throughout the season has paid off,” added senior Luke Oliver.
He also said it took some soul searching by the team, after taking down some powerhouses in preseason, to come back from a pair of league losses to start the TVL campaign.
“Honestly, I think everyone needs to be humbled every once in a while,” he said.
Center Hunter Budd has been in the trenches all season.
“We have a lot of seniors this year so it means a lot that we get to go this far and have these experiences together,” Budd pointed out. “I’ve been thinking about this since I was in eighth grade so it just feels good to be actually doing it.”
Junior defensive end Nico Franzia was moved up to varsity as a sophomore for the playoffs last season – which ended with a NorCal bowl game loss – and was glad to get a win this year.
“I just like being with my friends, the energy, it’s really fun and I just love it out there,” he said.
Junior linebacker Nate Krieger has emerged as a workhorse on defense and enjoys stuffing the competition.
“I kind of just like going out there and just hitting people, that’s really it,” Krieger said. “I feel like we’re going to be ready for next week and it’s just going to be fun.”
Talan Reider has provided a steady presence on the extra point kicks for several weeks and also has pulled in some passes, getting involved in many aspects of the game.
“It’s exciting, I’ll tell you that,” he said of his role and the team moving on to play for the state championship. “I’m having a lot of fun.”
Offensively, the Cougars had 417 yards to 271 for Pleasant Valley and Escalon also showcased a wide variety of weapons, with five different ball carriers and five different receivers.
Tate Christensen and Jamin Miller had fumble recoveries, Ryan Lewis had a sack and Nate Krieger had 11 tackles.
Owen Nash was the leading receiver, three catches for 47 yards and a touchdown; Ryker Peters was the leading rusher with 15 carries for 179 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Logan Anderson had two rushing touchdowns and caught a pass for a score. Quarterback Donovan Rozevink was 8-for-15 for 138 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
“We had a great crowd, as always,” Beam said of the Engel Field faithful getting behind the team. “Eight, nine, 10 weeks ago, very few people would have believed we would be in this position.”
That position; hosting a state title game.
“Now we’ve got that hashtag going, one more,” the coach said.
He – and the team – are looking for that “one more” win, a win that will bring another state title to Cougar Country.