The third quarter made all the difference in Friday night’s playoff game.
Escalon, hosting Woodland in a quarterfinal contest in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 5 football playoffs, capitalized on the breakout performance of junior Ryker Peters – outstanding on both sides of the ball – to end Woodland’s season. The Cougars move on, courtesy of a 39-12 win, and will host Trans-Valley League rival Ripon at Engel Field on Friday night, Nov. 19. Ripon, the No. 5 seed, traveled on Nov. 12 and defeated No. 4 Pioneer by a 39-20 final.
In the quarterfinal game at Engel Field, the 9-1 Wolves had the Cougars out of sync early, as head coach Andrew Beam said it took his squad a little time to adjust.
“Woodland has won nine games for a reason,” Beam noted. “It took us a little bit of time to settle in and we turned the ball over two times on interceptions, those kept them alive and feeling that they could play with us.”
Escalon did get the first half kickoff and was able to turn that into three points, on a 26-yard field goal from Alfonzo Gonzalez. But Woodland answered on the next drive, breaking free for a 59-yard touchdown pass play. The point after attempt was no good, but the visitors had a 6-3 lead after the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Peters scored the first touchdown of the night for the host team, on a 17-yard run. Escalon’s point after attempt was no good, so they took a 9-6 lead. It was Peters again getting the Cougars on the scoreboard, as he leaped up to block a Woodland punt and was successful in batting the kick away, going into the end zone for a safety to make it 11-6.
That was the unusual score at the half, but Beam said by then, his team had settled down and were locked in to the game plan.
“We were happy with 11-6, that’s playoff football,” Beam said of addressing the team at halftime and gearing them up for second half action. “We came out excited and then we couldn’t even see the stadium lights from the locker room.”
Fog that had swirled around low in the first half settled in over the entire stadium like a blanket in the second half. Cheerleaders performing at halftime could barely be seen through the fog and spotters that typically work in the press box above the field had to come down on the sidelines in an attempt to see the action and relay the plays for PA announcer Nick Caton to keep the crowd informed.
“It just adds to the theatrics of playoff football,” Beam said of the eerie atmosphere.
The Cougars however, embraced the weather and “blew it open” in the third quarter, said Beam, leaving Woodland players and coaches frustrated.
After getting a crucial stop on defense on the second half kickoff, Peters scored on a 22-yard run, kick good to make it 18-6 on Escalon’s first possession of the third quarter. Logan Anderson then found the end zone after a 5-yard run on Escalon’s next possession and the 2-point conversion was good for a 26-6 Escalon lead. A pair of unsportsmanlike penalties called on Woodland saw them penalized 30 yards at the end of that series, so the kickoff was deep in their territory. Escalon did an onside kick, recovered by Cody Parker, and turned it into a 9-yard touchdown run from JP Lial with the point after sent through the uprights by Gonzalez to give Escalon a commanding 33-6 lead by the end of the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Woodland worked the ball down the field and was knocking on the door at the end zone when Owen Nash stepped in to pick off a Wolves pass at the 1-yard line.
That gave Escalon the ball back but a couple of plays later, a fumbled handoff was recovered in the end zone for a Woodland touchdown. They attempted the 2-point conversion but were stuffed, trimming the lead to 33-12 with 6:46 to play in the game.
Escalon sealed the win with a 65-yard run by Peters, breaking out through the middle of the pack to outdistance all the defenders and get to the end zone. The extra point was no good, but Escalon had the 39-12 lead and that’s where the scoring would end.
Woodland devolved into some cheap shots, especially during the third quarter, with players making rude gestures to the home crowd and getting called for a handful of late hits against the Cougar players.
“I commend our players for not retaliating, they showed a lot of maturity,” Beam said.
And the bottom line, the coach added, is that Escalon has another football game to play while Woodland’s season is done.
“Ryker Peters had an outstanding game, he blocked a punt, had 12 tackles, had 13 carries for 205 yards and three touchdowns,” Beam said. “He’s getting better every week and he’s learning how to be a fullback, how to be a linebacker.”
“Before this game, I was all shook up with nerves, I was genuinely scared,” admitted the junior, suiting up for his first playoff game. “I knew I had to step up, coaches settled me down before we started the game, it was just about me acting on how I play.”
He said those jitters actually helped his overall performance.
“I think it kept me on edge. I think it kept the horse moving,” he explained. “Those long runs, those powerful hits on defense, especially how we carried and how we were getting the stops, we carried the momentum.”
Jamin Miller added nine tackles, Caden Gonsalves had 12 tackles and a sack. EJ Lewis had a sack and Nash pulled in the interception.
Anderson had seven carries for 44 yards; Lial had six carries for 30 yards.
“We had 10 different guys carry the ball, we even got the sophomores we brought up a carry,” Beam said.
On the down side, the passing game was not effective, with the first two passes completed but sophomore QB Donovan Rozevink going just 1-for-9 the rest of the game.
This Friday night, it will be the top seed Cougars welcoming rival Ripon to town for a semifinal showdown, with the winner advancing to the Section final. On the other side of the bracket, No. 6 seed Hilmar hosts No. 7 Casa Roble. Three of the four teams in the semifinals are from the TVL.
“This will be our third time playing Ripon in a calendar year, we beat them a few weeks ago and we welcome them back,” Beam said. “They are a big, physical team, they rely on their defense, we rely on our defense and I think the two towns will show up to see this game.”
Again, tickets must be purchased online in advance. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m.
“This should be a fun Friday night,” Beam said.