Less than a minute into Friday night’s game at Engel Field, the visiting Hilmar Yellowjackets had a 7-0 lead.
They struck fast, converting on a 71-yard pass play on the second play of the game to take the lead.
It was the Trans-Valley League opener for Escalon, coming off their bye week, while Hilmar was coming off their opening week loss to Ripon. The Yellowjackets were virtually in a must win situation, not wanting to start the league campaign 0-2.
After the dust had cleared on Friday, Hilmar did take the win, edging out Escalon 20-17 in overtime.
The coin toss to start the game went to Escalon and they opted to kick off, a change from past contests, and the Yellowjackets jumped on their opportunity with the long pass play to get on the board with 11:10 to play in the first quarter.
Escalon went a quick three and out on their first possession and, after the Cougar defense held Hilmar on their next possession, Escalon was able to pull even. The big play in that series was a 62-yard pass from quarterback Lucciano Dutra to Kaden Christensen, setting up a scoring plunge from Luke Anderson from just a few yards out. Guillermo Alvarez sent through the extra point and before the clock expired in the first quarter, the teams were knotted at 7-7.
“On third and long, Lucciano was able to find Kaden and two plays later Luke scored from three yards out,” head coach Andrew Beam explained.
Escalon took the lead in the second quarter, using the running game to their advantage and utilizing sophomore Anderson, who scored from a yard out with the point after by Alvarez for a 14-7 Escalon advantage.
Hilmar would not go away and churned up yardage effectively in the closing seconds of the first half, getting into position for a field goal to trim the lead to 14-10 at the break.
With the lead and getting the ball to start the second half, the Cougars seemed to be in good shape and looked to put some distance between themselves and the Yellowjackets.
But a strong Hilmar defensive stand did not allow the Escalon offense to get anything going in the third quarter.
By the same token, the Cougar defense didn’t give up much to Hilmar, either.
Still, Beam said not cashing in on opportunities when they presented themselves ultimately proved costly.
“Not getting points hurt and every time they stopped us, they just gained more and more confidence,” Beam said.
Neither team scored in the third quarter and Hilmar worked themselves into the lead in the fourth quarter, capitalizing on a drive they capped off with a six-yard pass play and the point after to go up 17-14 with about four minutes left.
Escalon’s last drive of regulation got them even, sending the game into overtime.
“We were able to get a few quarterback runs and then we had a direct snap from (center) PJ Flores to Luke Anderson, who tossed it to Kaden Christensen,” explained Beam. “Kaden was under a ton of pressure but he got the pass off to Dutra, who made the catch on the sideline and then went out of bounds.”
Though they weren’t able to convert that play into a touchdown, it did get them into range for Alvarez with a few precious ticks left on the clock.
“We had to settle for a 36-yard field goal, it was a huge pressure situation but Guillermo has been there before and he sent it into overtime,” said Beam of the game knotted at 17-17 when the time expired.
Hilmar won the toss and opted to defend first. Escalon had two rushing plays for short gains, an incomplete pass and then a 34-yard field goal attempt that was just wide left.
The Yellowjackets then took the game, getting the winning field goal on their possession to defeat the Cougars, 20-17.
It was Escalon’s first loss of the season and puts them at 4-1 overall, 0-1 in league.
“Give Hilmar credit for making the plays we didn’t,” Beam noted. “Dutra could never really find his rhythm; he was 3-for-11 for 72 yards.”
Kaden Christensen had two catches for 64 yards and 14 carries for 51 yards; Anderson had 19 carries for 94 yards and two touchdowns.
“Defensively, David Camacho and Jacob Walden both had sacks, Garrett Nash forced a fumble and had a fumble recovery,” added Beam. “Hilmar had 320 total yards of offense, we had 288.”
It was an emotional game for the team, as they desperately wanted to hand Hilmar the loss but just couldn’t find a way to get it done.
“We have to learn from it,” captain Nash Satnat said, noting that they can take the lessons of the game and put them into practice. “Now we focus on next week.”
Fellow captain Cole Gilbert agreed that the Cougars can become a better team through the adversity.
“I think we can advance from it, just keep moving forward,” he said. “We have to keep our heads up. Just flush it and move on to the next, this was just a good dog fight.”
Jacob Walden said the mistakes that were made can be corrected, as the Cougars look to get back on the winning track.
“The good thing is that the effort was there,” Walden said. “You can fix the mistakes.”
Escalon jumps right back into the Trans-Valley League fire as they travel to undefeated Modesto Christian for a Friday night battle on Sept. 29, with kickoff at about 7:30 p.m.
“The guys were upset that we lost because they care, it means something to them,” Beam said of the team taking the loss hard on Friday night.
But he also knows that they will bounce back with a vengeance.
“We still control our own destiny; we still have a lot of meaningful football to play,” Beam pointed out. “We’ve got the right kind of leadership.”
The Crusaders will be a formidable foe but Beam said his Cougars have a little bit of an edge in at least one area.
“We’ve played some intense football, we’ve had to battle for four quarters,” the coach said. “They haven’t had to do that. We’re battle tested.”
He’s hoping that will play into the Cougars’ favor as they look to even their TVL mark at 1-1 on Friday night.