The mantra continues to work.
All gas, no brakes has been the mindset for the Escalon varsity Cougars on the football field and they held true to that on Friday night. Heading into Hilmar for a Sac-Joaquin Section Division 5 playoff quarterfinal, Escalon avenged a regular season loss to the Yellowjackets, defeating them 42-28 on Nov. 11 to move on to the Section semifinals.
“Those boys have started to live in it,” head coach Andrew Beam said of the ‘all gas, no brakes’ mentality. “I’m unbelievably proud of how our team has come together.”
Escalon roared off to a 3-1 mark in the preseason, their only loss to state powerhouse Buchanan, and they entered the Trans-Valley League season as the odds-on favorite to repeat as TVL champs.
But back-to-back losses to Hughson and Hilmar left the Cougars at 3-3 and Beam said it was truly gut check time.
“After losing those two games, I just didn’t know how to save this,” the coach admitted of prospects for the season dimming. “But I have to credit the kids and the coaches … it goes back to that Ripon game, when we walked out of the locker room, it was a different feel.”
A different feel, a different team, a different level of focus that has seen the Cougars rip off six straight victories, closing out league play with wins over Modesto Christian, Riverbank, Ripon and Livingston and then taking down Pacheco in the first round of the playoffs before facing Hilmar.
The Division 5 bracket had Hilmar, Escalon and Ripon all on the same side of the bracket, which Beam and many others felt was incredibly disrespectful to the powerhouse Trans-Valley League. Ripon lost in the quarterfinals to top ranked Sutter; Escalon and Hilmar met last year in the Section title game but had to play this year in the quarterfinals.
Now, the Cougars move on to take on the top ranked Sutter Huskies, but they had to get past Hilmar to do it.
It was a tight game early on Friday night, Escalon leading 7-0 after one, 14-7 at the half, 21-14 after three. A quick fourth quarter score saw Escalon go up 28-14; the Yellowjackets answered to buzz back to within a score at 28-21 with just over 10 minutes to go in the game but the Cougars then added two more touchdowns to extend the lead to 42-21. Hilmar would add one final rushing touchdown with one second left on the clock for the 42-28 final.
Escalon got a 68-yard rushing touchdown from Ryker Peters in the first quarter, a 10-yard pass from Donovan Rozevink to Matthew Baptista for the score in the second quarter.
Third quarter scoring came from Peters, 21-yard run, as Escalon had the 21-14 lead entering the final frame.
In that pivotal fourth quarter, Peters broke free from near midfield for a 47-yard score, Rozevink and Logan Anderson connected on a 56-yard pass play for a touchdown and the final Cougar touchdown came on a 54-yard catch and run play, Owen Nash taking the ball over the top of a Hilmar defender and racing down the sideline for the score.
“Logan’s catch midway through the fourth was probably the biggest play of the night,” Beam said. “He caught it and outraced everybody … that made it 35-21.”
With time ticking away, the Yellowjackets found themselves two scores down.
After an interception by Baptista on Hilmar’s next possession, the Cougars slammed the door shut on the Yellowjackets’ season.
“They were selling out on the run and Donovan found Owen, Nash just outjumped his guy and went 54 yards for the score, that was a beautiful catch,” Beam said.
Talan Reider hit all of the extra points for Escalon on the night.
“Amazing, nothing better, nothing better,” Nash said of taking the playoff win at Hilmar’s house. “We just had to jump on them, all gas, no brakes, just take the life out of them.”
Peters was the leading rusher, carrying the ball 23 times for 209 yards and three touchdowns. Anderson had five catches for 105 yards and a score; Nash had two catches for 84 yards and a touchdown; Baptista also had a touchdown catch. Rozevink was 10-for-17 under center, passing for 193 yards and three touchdowns.
“It was just really important, brings the team up, everyone’s happy, we needed this, now on to the next game,” said Baptista of defeating Hilmar.
It was a game where the offense made the most of their opportunities while the defense squashed Hilmar’s.
“I’m just unbelievably proud of the defense, we were able to contain their guys for the most part,” added Beam. “Javier Gutierrez had a fumble recovery, Jamin Miller and Ryan Lewis played outstanding defense, Jamin had six tackles, Ayden Wilson and Lewis each had four.”
Punt and kickoff teams also played a solid game, said the coach, and it all added up to a satisfying revenge win over rival Hilmar.
“It was very important to us, it was 28-21 at one point and next thing you know, it’s 42-21 just like that; that was important, we needed to not just beat them but we needed to make a statement to everybody around here,” said Rozevink. “We want to play Sutter; they’re the number one seed and we’re looking to end teams’ seasons.”
Peters, who got all the carries for the Cougars in the second half, said it’s important to just keep that momentum going as they head out on the road to Sutter for the Nov. 18 semifinal clash.
“Stay focused, we have to go out there, we can’t think of them as just any other team, this is a playoff game and anything can happen,” Peters said. “Take it day by day, prepare ourselves, assignment football. When were’ re all firing on all cylinders, there’s nothing better than this team.”
Senior Tate Christensen said the 14-7 lead at half was good, but the team knew they could do better.
“I think coming back from half, it was just a matter of time until we broke them,” he said. “We came out strong, first half, kept it close, came out strong second half … I think overall we just wanted it more and we went out and we played strong.”
Senior Logan Anderson said even though the team has been focused, there was a different resolve heading into the fourth quarter at Hilmar.
“Coach just came to us and said like ‘this is it, right here, it’s either you want to go home or you want to play football next week’,” Anderson said. “Now we’re going to Sutter and we’re going to show them how Escalon plays.”
And how Escalon has been playing lately, everything is working.
“When our offense clicks, it’s just unstoppable,” Anderson said. “We have so many threats, everywhere, you don’t have that many guys on defense to cover all of us.”
Game time is 7 p.m. on the road at Sutter, where the number five seed Cougars will face off with the top seed Huskies, a team that has had tremendous success in the Northern Section including Section titles from 2016 to 2021 before being moved into the Sac-Joaquin Section this year.
“They are 11-0 and are only giving up an average of six points per game, they beat Ripon 14-0,” Beam noted. “Their players only go one way; we have six or seven that go both ways … we look forward to the challenge.”
Tickets must be purchased online, go to: https://gofan.co/app/events/789280?schoolId=CA22540.