It was a quarterfinal playoff victory for the Escalon football Cougars on Friday night, taking a 21-6 decision off the field against the Hughson Huskies on Nov. 15.
Escalon, the top seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI playoffs, had a 14-0 lead at the half and made it 21-0 in the third before Hughson answered with a lone touchdown in the fourth.
The visitors won the coin toss and elected to kick off, putting Escalon into their offense to begin the game. The Huskies tried an onside kick but Jack Fitzgerald was there to gather in the bouncing kick and made a short return, setting up the first possession at the 39-yard line.
Carries by Luke Anderson, Colton Panero and Kaden Christensen got the Cougars on the move and it was Anderson who went in on a 16-yard touchdown run with 7:16 to go in the first to put the home team on the board. The point after was good for the early 7-0 lead.
Head coach Andrew Beam said the game had a different feel, with the teams just having faced each other in the regular season finale on Nov. 1. Playing them again two weeks later saw the Huskies throw in some trick plays but the Cougars ultimately proved to be up to the task.
Hughson made some headway on its first possession and ate up some big chunks of yardage to get within scoring distance. But on a fourth and 12, the pass was completed short of the first down marker, Escalon taking over on downs at the 20-yard line.
Second quarter action saw the Cougar drive stall, the team having to punt the ball away. Again, the Huskies mounted a solid drive but were turned away, stopped short on a fourth down play, the Cougars taking over at the 13-yard line. An exchange of punts followed before Escalon was able to make another scoring drive late in the first half.
A 31-yard catch by Kaidence Trejo and a 7-yard reception from Logan Webster helped keep the drive going and then Panero broke free of coverage and was all alone in the corner of the end zone, where quarterback Ty Harris hit him from 6 yards out. The kick was good and it was 14-0 at the half.
“It was a late arriving crowd but it did fill up pretty well on both sides,” Beam noted of the unusual feel to the game. “There wasn’t a ton of excitement.”
The coach did offer praise for the Hughson team, with the players fighting hard to the final whistle.
“Hughson played their tails off,” he said. “They did some radical things but credit to coach (Brandon) Hoover and our defense; they bent and bent but didn’t break. We turned Hughson away four or five times in the red zone.”
The Cougars also had two interceptions, one from Bryan Hale and one from Garrett Nash.
“Offensively, we got a great game from Ty Harris, he was 12-for-19 for 171 yards and two touchdowns,” added Bream. “Kaidence Trejo didn’t have a touchdown but he had some big third down conversions and caught six passes for 79 yards.”
Christensen accumulated a total of 127 yards through a combination of carries and catches and he added the final touchdown of the night for the Cougars, scoring on a 63-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter. With the point after, the host team opened up the 21-0 lead.
“We did struggle on the offensive line,” Beam admitted. “But the nice thing was our skill guys and the passing game stepped up.”
Hughson was able to get into the end zone in the fourth quarter but missed the extra point attempt and never got any closer, their season ending in Escalon.
“We definitely knew they were going to come back stronger,” Kaidence Trejo said of the second meeting with the Huskies this month. “Our bye week helped get our guys healthy.”
Damien Tom, one of this year’s captains, said he “felt it would be a good game” and the Cougars were well prepared, now they get ready to move on.
“A lot of hard work,” Bryan Hale said of how the Cougars prepared for Hughson, getting ready for those trick plays and unusual offensive schemes they knew were coming. “Now we just need to get healthy and step up to the plate.”
The best feeling of the night, however, belonged to Garrett Nash. He was called for a penalty after a tackle, though it was his facemask that was grabbed by the Hughson ball carrier. Nash ended up getting his revenge, picking off a pass on the final Huskies drive.
“It felt awesome to end the game that way, I got that last pick and basically ended their season,” Nash said.
Damien Tom paced the defense with eight tackles, Jacob Walden had seven and sacks were recorded by Walden, Tom, Demetrius Teixeira and David Camacho.
Next up for the Cougars, the Sonora Wildcats, a team that Escalon saw in preseason.
Though that game was a 35-7 win for the Cougars, Beam said the Wildcats were without two key players then, players who are now healthy and back in the line-up.
“They played probably the toughest schedule, they played Oakdale, Ripon, Hilmar and us in the preseason,” Beam pointed out. “Their kids are tough. We have to be able to tackle, to wrap up. We have to protect the ball on offense, limit our penalties, if we execute, I feel good about our game plan.”
Gates will open at 6 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 22 for the semifinal round game. The other side of the bracket features Hilmar against Ripon Christian and the winners on Friday night will meet for the Division VI title.
“This is the round we have not been able to get through the last two years,” Beam said of the semifinals. “It’s just a hurdle we haven’t been able to get over.”
With hopes for a loud, supportive crowd, a healthy team and a solid game plan, the Cougars aim to clear that hurdle on Friday night.