Touchdowns in each of the first and second quarters staked Escalon to a 14-0 halftime lead and they never let down in a road win against Sonora.
The final score in the Aug. 31 game was 34-6 in favor of the Cougars, who won their third straight preseason contest, this time against the host Wildcats.
As they have so far this season, the Cougars took advantage of winning the coin toss to start out on the offensive side of the ball, something that coach Andrew Beam said he likes to do to get the team going.
“Early in the week, we knew we wanted to make a statement,” Beam said. “We took the kickoff and had a great opening drive and ultimately scored on a 17-yard pass to Colton Panero from Lucciano Dutra, a touchdown that was set up by the 32-yard run by Kaden Christensen on the first run of the game.”
Guillermo Alvarez had the point after for an early 7-0 Escalon lead. Panero made a nice over-the-shoulder catch in the corner of the end zone, fighting off the defender for the opening drive touchdown.
In the second quarter, Panero figured in to the scoring drive again, with a carry of 39 yards and then a determined run from 21 yards out, giving a second effort even as he was going down, stretching out to get the ball across the line into the end zone. Alvarez added the extra point and it was 14-0 Cougars.
The defense was once again strong and was successful in shutting down the Wildcat drives early, coming up with the big stop when needed. Host Sonora looked to get something going as the second half wound down but again were stymied by the Cougars.
“We got a really nice stop just before the half and that killed some momentum,” Beam said.
Up by two scores at the half, Escalon was on the defensive to open up the second half, with the Wildcats taking the kickoff.
But it was a short-lived possession for the home team, which was still looking for its first points of the season, having been shut out previously by Oakdale and Ripon.
“In that third quarter, we got a stop and then we went on a traditional six- to seven-minute Cougar drive down the field,” explained Beam. “Luke Anderson took the ball in from a yard out and with the kick by Guillermo, we went up 21-0.”
The Cougar fans in the stands had plenty to cheer about, as their squad kept the Wildcats in check, continually frustrating them.
“It feels good to come out on a million dollar field and get the win,” admitted junior defensive tackle Damien Tom, who recorded eight tackles and one sack on the night. “I think we wanted it more, I was thinking 44-14 but I’ll take 34-6.”
Senior defensive end Cole Gilbert said the team worked hard to prepare for the Wildcats and getting the road win was satisfying for them all.
“I feel like we’ve out conditioned other teams,” Gilbert added of having the stamina to stay strong as the game wears on. “We just have the heart.”
Leading by the three touchdown edge heading into the final quarter, the varsity Cougars weren’t done.
“We got Luke Anderson on four straight carries, right up the middle, the third carry was for 39 yards and then he ran it in for a 5-yard touchdown,” Beam said.
This time, Ricky Erazo came on to kick the extra point and it was 28-0 Cougars with a little under 10 minutes to go in the game.
“We started to wear on them,” noted the coach.
But Sonora found a way to dig deep and finally got on the scoreboard, avoiding their third straight shutout and bringing the game to 28-6 with 7:13 to play.
“They put together a nice drive to score,” admitted Beam.
However, that one time in the end zone was the only one the home team would get and Escalon would get it back before the end of the game.
With just over two minutes to go, Escalon completed a drive with a 13-yard pass to Kaidence Trejo from Dutra for the score. The extra point attempt failed but that made it 34-6, which would also be the final score.
“That took the wind out of their sails,” Beam said.
Multiple players got involved in the action, with the second offense and defense seeing some time on the field late in the game.
“I feel like we came out and were able to do what we wanted to do,” junior wide receiver/defensive back Trejo said.
He added that the Cougars were ready for the onside kick that the Wildcats attempted late in the game and were able to retain possession, effectively sealing the win.
Pulling in his first reception of the season was junior Miguel Souza.
“It felt so good to get my first catch,” he admitted. “It’s just awesome to play with everyone, to be in the prime of everything. In the second half we were just working on making adjustments, just improving … we play as a family, it’s us against the other team and it’s all about who’s better, who’s stronger. Right now, it’s us.”
Beam pointed to the Cougars winning the turnover battle again as being one of the keys.
“Garrett Nash, Ethan Krieger and Luke Anderson all had fumble recoveries,” Beam said. “Our down linemen played great, Damien Tom had eight tackles and a sack, Cole Gilbert had two sacks, Nash Satnat had seven tackles.”
Offensively, the Cougars were able to wear down the Wildcats, coming in with plenty of weapons. In the second half alone, Escalon ran 27 rushing plays and churned up 115 yards.
Anderson was the leading rusher on the night, 19 carries for 112 yards and two touchdowns. Panero had four carries for 76 yards and a touchdown along with a touchdown reception. Trejo had two catches for 26 yards and a score.
“Lucciano was efficient again at quarterback, he was 7-for-11 in passing for 73 yards and two touchdowns,” Beam said.
Escalon had 356 yards, 283 on the ground and 73 through the air. They had 14 first downs on the night, 10 of them by rushing. They were penalized seven times for 65 yards.
Sonora also had 14 first downs on Friday night but was held to 223 yards, 179 rushing and 44 passing.
Escalon did not turn the ball over.
“We’ve been able to protect the ball, that’s been important,” Beam said.
Protecting the ball and firing on all cylinders will be keys this week as well, as Escalon returns home to take on the River City Raiders, a team out of West Sacramento.
“They’re Division I, they have a lot of athleticism and they may be 0-3 but they’ve lost to three good schools,” Beam explained. “They bring a lot of speed to the game and this should be a good final tune up before league.”
The varsity is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff on Friday, Sept. 7 at Engel Field.