By the slimmest of margins, Escalon lost to the highly touted – and heavily favored – visiting Buchanan Bears out of Clovis on Friday night.
The Cougars, in fact, pushed the Division I powerhouse to overtime and came up just short in a 41-40 final.
Head coach Andrew Beam said his decision to go for two points after taking a 40-34 lead in overtime ultimately did not work out, but it was a decision he felt had to be made.
“We did not have any confidence in our kicking game,” the coach said, noting they had already had an extra point attempt blocked by Buchanan while another skittered underneath the crossbar, missing two on the night.
“It was a tough situation because we were tired, were running out of gas and we wanted to go for the two and force them to do the same,” Beam said, explaining that he knew his players were gassed in overtime and would have a hard time stopping the Buchanan juggernaut in the OT period.
“That one is going to stick with us for a long time,” the coach admitted of the heart-wrenching one-point loss.
But, he added, it is also one that kept the crowd hanging on every play and gave the Cougar faithful plenty to cheer about during the night.
“It’s just a reminder of how unique I truly believe Escalon football is,” Beam said. “It’s that community spirit that goes a long way toward our success … we’re also willing to take on anybody and our kids always rise to the challenge.”
It was a week where the coach said he saw tremendous growth in his players, shaking off an uncharacteristically emotional, penalty-ridden game in Reno to come back with a topnotch effort against a Fresno-area elite team.
“Kids are kids, they learn from their mistakes and I’m proud of the way we handled ourselves, the kids did a complete 180; our kids pulled each other up, told the other team ‘good job’ and did it with a lot of class,” Beam said of his varsity squad gracious in the one-point defeat.
Buchanan took a 7-6 lead in the first quarter. Escalon took the opening kickoff and had a quick three and out; Buchanan converted on its first possession. Escalon answered with their next drive, Ryker Peters breaking free on a 49-yard run to get the team in position and scoring six plays later on a 3-yard run. The point after was blocked, making it 7-6.
In the second quarter, after a defensive stop, Escalon took a 14-7 lead, with Logan Anderson scoring on a 6-yard-run, followed by a pass to Jamin Miller from Donovan Rozevink for the two-point conversion.
But Buchanan again struck quickly, an 8-yard run by the quarterback and the point after, 14-14.
After an interception by the Bears, they turned it into a touchdown and went up 21-14. But Anderson, who put together an outstanding night, pulled in a 62-yard touchdown pass on a third and eight, going up the seam and cutting between two Buchanan defenders for the score. The kick was good to make it 21-21 with 1:30 left in the half. The lightning quick offense of the Bears marched it back and scored before the end of the half, going up 28-21.
In the third quarter, the Cougars got the defensive stop early and then put together a drive that drew them back to within a point.
“Logan Anderson, on a fourth and eight, made a catch where he was completely parallel to the ground, it was a play that kept us in the game,” Beam said of the 26-yard reception.
He then went in from a yard out later in the drive, but the point after went under the crossbar, so the Cougars trailed 28-27.
Buchanan converted a field goal in the fourth quarter, increasing their lead to 31-27.
Escalon then thrilled the crowd with a late game march down the field – helped by a couple of Buchanan penalties – and Ryker Peters powered his way in from a yard out at the end of a long drive. The kick was good and Escalon had a 34-31 lead with just over a minute to play.
As they had all night, though, Buchanan showed why they are a top team in the state, their Fresno State-bound quarterback escaping tremendous pressure and squeezing a pass in between defenders, getting his team in position for a field goal that tied the game.
“They kicked the field goal with two seconds left in the game to force overtime,” Beam said.
In the OT period, the teams start at the 25-yard line and have a possession to try and score, then turn the ball over to their opponent.
“Ryker had a couple of runs, had four of the five carries on that possession and he scored on a 2-yard run on a fourth and goal,” the coach explained. “That’s when we decided to go for two; we had our look but we just didn’t connect.”
Escalon nevertheless had the 40-34 lead but Buchanan got the ball at the 25 and wasted no time, using four plays to find the end zone, culminating with an 11-yard pass play for the touchdown and then converting the extra point, winning 41-40.
“We had outstanding efforts all across the board,” Beam said. “Ryker had 30 carries for 202 yards and three touchdowns; Logan had seven carries for 43 yards and two rushing touchdowns, he also had four catches for 114 yards and a touchdown and did it all for us.”
Jamin Miller and Nate Krieger also both had solid nights at both running back and linebacker, while Talan Reider turned in a superb performance, shaking off an earlier week illness to contribute six tackles.
Nico Franzia had a huge sack, the only one of the game, in the fourth quarter.
Escalon had 383 total yards, Rozevink was 6-for-12 for 136 yards with one interception, and the Cougars had three penalties for 15 yards. Buchanan had 398 total yards and their quarterback hit 16-of-30 passes for 248 yards, and they were penalized seven times for 80 yards.
Now, the team will gear up for another game at Engel Field, hosting the Windsor Jaguars out of the Santa Rosa area on Friday night, Sept. 2. Game times are 5:30 p.m. for the JV and 7:30 p.m. for varsity, a half-hour later than normal due to the high temperatures forecast for the region; the hope is the later start will allow for a little cooling prior to kickoff.