It didn’t take long for Escalon to make a statement in the final football game of the season.
The three-headed monster of Colton Panero, Kaden Christensen and Luke Anderson turned Saturday night into a nightmare for the La Jolla defense, as the Escalon Cougars captured the State Football Championship for Division 4A on Dec. 14. They roughed up the visitors from Southern California, earning a 52-21 victory to bring the school its second state title of the decade. The 2010 team won the title in a game played in Carson.
Building up a 31-7 lead at the half, it was the trio of punishing Cougar runners who did the bulk of the damage. Christensen, Panero and Anderson all ran for over 1,000 yards this season.
“I don’t even know where you start,” admitted head coach Andrew Beam, an EHS alum who coached the team to the state crown in just his second year at the varsity helm. “The town, the community, the support our boys were shown … it was unique and very special to experience that atmosphere.”
After a Brayan Barrientos field goal got Escalon on the board to start the game, capping the first drive of the night with the 34-yard kick and early 3-0 lead, the trio of runners took over.
The La Jolla Vikings did win the coin toss and deferred, but that was just about the only thing that went right for them on the night. Not seeing the Wing-T offense before and not at all familiar with playing on grass, the visitors had difficulty finding any traction at Engel Field.
Throw in a huge hometown crowd that turned up the decibel level on every play and you had a decided home field advantage for the Cougars.
“At 5:20 p.m., we walked out as a team and, from end zone to end zone on our side, to see that field packed like we’ve never seen it before, what an incredible feeling,” Beam said. “And our boys didn’t disappoint.”
The Cougars rolled up 554 yards of offense, with 443 rushing yards on the night and 111 yards passing, with junior quarterback Ty Harris going 8-for-8. La Jolla had 249 passing yards and 87 on the ground, totaling 336 yards of offense.
Anderson scored the first touchdown of the night on a rumbling, stumbling 46-yard strike and Panero the second on a 20-yard scamper, opening up a 17-0 lead. The visiting Vikings got one back to close the gap to 17-7 but back to back touchdowns by Christensen, on runs of 27 and 12 yards, made it a 31-7 lead at halftime – Anderson running in the 2-point conversion to cap the first half scoring. Barrientos also handled the extra point attempts.
It was 38-7 with 4:53 to go in the third on another Anderson touchdown run from 24 yards out and after another Viking score, it was 38-13. Christensen then went in on a 42-yard pass play from Harris for a 45-13 lead with 10:19 to go in the fourth. A 13-yard touchdown by Anderson with 6:27 left in the game made it 52-13 and ended any hope the Vikings had of securing a title.
“Everything about our team and our offense was showcased in that one play,” Beam said of the final score for the Cougars. “It was your basic wham right but there were blocks and bodies flying everywhere and a second effort from Luke that ended in a dog pile.”
Anderson kept his feet moving, twisting, turning and churning while his offensive line provided the push and when he broke into the end zone, the celebration was on.
The visitors did keep battling and got a rushing touchdown and 2-point conversion with 1:44 to go in the game, with the final 52-21.
The presentation of the championship trophy and the singing of the alma mater by the players and cheerleaders serenading the huge crowd of Cougar fans rounded out the evening.
“You can’t draw up a better night,” Beam said.
All three leading rushers had 15 carries each on the night; Anderson with 192 yards and three touchdowns, Christensen with 133 yards and three touchdowns, Panero with 118 yards and a score.
“Our offensive line and Ty did a tremendous job,” Beam said. “Defensively, Jacob Walden had four tackles and two sacks, Damien Tom had five tackles, David Camacho was outstanding once again. Kaidence Trejo had seven tackles, Demetrius Teixeira had a sack and Logan Webster had a fumble recovery.”
Catching passes were Trejo, 2-for-14 yards; Panero, 2-for-33; Christensen, 2-for-47; Webster, 1-for-3; Bryan Hale, 1-for-14.
The 2019 Cougars earned a share of the Trans-Valley League title, took the Division 6 Section championship, traveled to Chico and defeated Pleasant Valley in the North regionals in Division 4A and then hosted and put away La Jolla for the State Championship.
They compiled a 14-1 overall record for the campaign.