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OT Thriller - Escalon Battles Way Past Los Banos, 42-35
Just when you thought nothing could top the takedown of No. 1 seed Placer in the quarterfinals, along came Los Banos.

Escalon prevailed in a four overtime contest on the road Friday night, defeating the host Tigers 42-35 to advance to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 final on Saturday against familiar foe Central Catholic.

Knotted at 21-21 at the end of regulation, it took four possessions from each side to finally decide the game.

"There were so many heroes in this one," said an exhausted but happy coach Mark Loureiro. "Our kids just go above and beyond; you can never count them out."

It looked like Escalon may be out, as referees reversed a call in the third quarter that swung the momentum wildly in favor of the home team. A late hit on quarterback Phillip Kimble as he went out of bounds saw the penalty flag thrown on the Tigers, and another scuffle further down the sideline on the same play, after it was whistled dead, also drew a flag.

Instead of a fourth down, the Cougars were poised to gain 30 yards on the double personal fouls, with a first down and driving with a 14-7 lead. But after a huddle with all the officials, both penalty flags were waved off.

"It was a horrible call, horrible. You can't wave off a dead ball foul," Loureiro said simply.

But arguments from the coach were to no avail and it was a Cougar fourth down, forcing them to punt the ball.

Some two-and-a-half minutes later, it was 21-14 Los Banos.

"It swung the game, it swung the momentum," Loureiro agreed. "Give them credit, though, Los Banos scored twice quick."

Down by seven headed into the fourth quarter, the Cougars got a huge block on a Los Banos field goal attempt from Josh Redding, and they turned that into a scoring drive of their own, tying the game at 21-21 with three minutes to play when Kimble found Andrew Zavala in the end zone on a third and 14.

Neither team got on the board in the first quarter, but Los Banos struck first, on a 31-yard pass play early in the second quarter to take a 7-0 lead. The Cougars answered back with a 4-yard run from Nathan Chunn and the kick was good to tie it 7-7 with 6:01 to go in the first half. Chunn went in for a second time, from 10 yards out, with 41 seconds left in the half and Thomas Diniz added the point after for a 14-7 Cougar lead.

Los Banos got the ball to start the second half and were on a drive, but a fumble recovered by Joey Gutierrez with 8:19 to play in the third put the Cougars on offense at their own 13-yard line. After getting one first down on the possession and with a third and 9, Kimble scrambled to his right, looking for a receiver, and let the pass go as he stepped out of bounds. The pass was complete to Robbie Steves but it was ruled Kimble stepped out before he threw it. The late hit and unsportsmanlike conduct penalty flags flew, then were waved off. The call came with 5:01 to go in the third.

At 4:47, Los Banos got a 47-yard touchdown pass and the kick to tie it 14-14. The Cougars went three and out on their next possession and after taking the ball at the 27-yard line on the punt, Los Banos broke free for a 73-yard touchdown run by leading rusher James Sams with the kick good to make it 21-14 at the 2:17 mark of the third.

Redding's block of the field goal attempt - which would have put the home team up by 10 points - grew into the tying touchdown late in the fourth and forced the overtime.

It took four of them to decide it, with each team getting the ball for a possession each time, starting at the 10-yard line.

A Los Banos fumble on their first possession was gobbled up by Steves and the Cougars got in position for the game-winning field goal, but the attempt by Diniz skidded wide left. Los Banos won the toss for the second OT, putting the Cougars on offense first and Chunn ran it in for the score, with the kick by Diniz, to make it 28-21. Los Banos was able to answer on a pass play, adding the kick to make it 28-28.

The third OT, Los Banos had possession first and scored on their first play to make it 35-28. With the pressure on, Jason Robbins went up the middle and Chunn carried it twice, with the Cougars looking at a fourth down and 4 yards to go. Kimble found Zavala in the end zone for the catch, the point after was good and it was 35-35.

In the fourth overtime, with the fans starting to encroach on the field and the Los Banos Police Department sending in some officers for potential crowd control duty, the Cougars started on offense. Robbins carried on first down, a pass fell incomplete on second and Kimble sent out a swing pass to Chunn on third down, the senior rumbling to the corner of the end zone, dragging a defender with him, for the score. The point after was good and it was 42-35 Escalon. Los Banos had one final chance, but an incomplete pass, a smothered rushing attempt and two passes that fell incomplete in the end zone set off the Cougar celebration.

"Oh my God, we wanted it," senior Robbins said following the marathon contest. "We wanted our revenge and we got it."

Los Banos defeated Escalon by a 34-32 final in Week 0 of the season; this time, with much more on the line, the Cougars came out on top.

Redding, a junior, said he had never been through such a stressful situation.

"Back and forth, overtime, us scoring and them scoring, I just wanted us to win," he said. "That last defensive stop, in the huddle, Lance Davis and Johnathon Costa just told us this is it, we love you guys, we're brothers and we can't lose this."

Costa, a senior and team captain, said he knew they could make that last stand.

"I said 'here we go guys, the biggest four plays of our lives'," Costa said of his words in the huddle.

Added senior Kimble, "We just keep fighting to the end, if it's fourth down, if we're down, we make the plays."

Zavala, who delivered a bone crunching hit on the Los Banos quarterback and came up huge both on defense and offense, said offseason made the difference in the postseason.

"All through the summer we worked, intense workouts and we just never quit," he said.

Davis said it was a roller coaster but he never doubted his team's ability. Chunn said the team aspect again was key.

"All the hard work, it pays off and we've always backed each other," he said. "We're a team, that's the only way you can win."

Chunn had 33 carries for 140 yards and three touchdowns, plus two catches, one for a touchdown. Kimble was 9-for-18 for 140 yards and three touchdowns, Robbins rushed 14 times for 56 yards. Zavala had two touchdown receptions and defensively had three tackles and two sacks. Gutierrez and Alan Gonzalez were again monsters on both sides of the ball, getting "a tremendous push" all night, said Loureiro.

Steves had eight tackles and an interception, Alec VonAlvensleben notched six tackles and an interception, Robbins had two fumble recoveries, Gutierrez had a fumble recovery. Davis had 12 tackles, Costa had eight and Fernando Ceniceros was huge in the overtime, with five tackles in the four OT sessions. Troy Doggett and Zavala also stepped up defensively when Collin Strasser went out with an injury.

"When you beat a high quality team like this, there are a lot of heroes," Loureiro said.

Escalon advances to the championship, taking on Central Catholic in a 1 p.m. start Saturday in the D4 Section title game at Lincoln of Stockton.