In a road trip to Sonora, the Escalon varsity Cougars managed to escape with a victory.
Two late scores by the host Wildcats, the second including a 2-point conversion, made it a 21-15 final. Escalon had control of the game most of the way through, though the late scores made it appear it was a much closer contest.
“Their defensive line, especially, played a very physical game,” explained head coach Andrew Beam of the Sonora squad. “It took us a long time to get going.”
And though the coach added “nothing was easy” on Friday night, the team did improve to 3-0 with the win on Sept. 3.
“Our first drive was methodical,” Beam said.
Escalon took the opening kickoff after Sonora won the toss and deferred. The methodical march down the field saw the Cougars eat up plenty of clock time and cap off the long drive with a one-yard touchdown plunge by JP Lial. Alfonzo Gonzalez kicked the extra point for a 7-0 lead.
“We had run something like 15 plays,” Beam said of the opening drive.
Another drive in the second quarter saw Escalon make some headway but ultimately get stopped short.
“We had a fourth and one from their 20-yard line and they stopped us,” the coach noted. “If we go up 14-0 there, it’s a different feeling going into that locker room.”
But the Cougars couldn’t break through for a second score in the first half and held just the slim 7-0 advantage at halftime.
“It was gut check time,” Beam said simply, adding that coaches were curious to see whether the Cougars would come out with the right attitude.
“They needed to come out and show some resiliency, toughness and match their intensity,” he said of Escalon needing to equal the effort of the home team. “I’m really proud of the way both sides (Cougar offense and defense) played.”
Able to get a good stop on Sonora, which received the second half kickoff, Escalon was then able to extend their lead quickly.
“That was a huge momentum shift and confidence booster,” Beam said. “On a third and six, it was a really good throw from Donovan Rozevink and an even better catch in traffic by EJ Lewis for a seven-yard touchdown.”
The point after was good, making it 14-0.
A fourth quarter interception by Tyler Medina, returned deep into Sonora territory, set up the third score. It was Medina who got the call, pulling in an 8-yard pass from Rozevink for the touchdown.
“His first catch, his first touchdown of the year,” Beam said of the senior Medina.
For his part, the wide receiver/defensive back was happy to get involved in the scoring.
“I had a feeling it was coming my way,” Medina said of picking off the pass. “I haven’t had a big pick like that in a long time … I just ran as fast as I could.”
Though hoping to score on the interception, Medina was satisfied to settle for pulling in the TD pass a couple of plays later.
Sonora was able to put two late touchdowns on the board, the passing game starting to click late, but the onside kick they tried with just under a minute left was covered by Christian Tinoco and the Cougars just had to take a couple of snaps to run out the clock.
“We need to stay healthy,” senior Lial said in assessing the key for the Cougars as the season unwinds.
This week, they face a tough task, controlling the Kimball Jaguars.
“They spread the ball out and they’re a big school,” Lial said. “I’m excited for it.”
Junior Tate Christensen agreed they need stay focused as they prepare for the Homecoming game.
“It’ll be a tough one,” Christensen said.
Beam said several players stepped up on Friday night, especially as starting running back/defensive back Matthew Baptista was out for the contest and DB Owen Nash also left in the second half.
“It wasn’t pretty, it was ugly,” Beam said of the overall contest. “We both had seven penalties, we had seven penalties for 50 yards and Sonora had seven penalties for 55 yards so we were pretty equal there,” the coach said.
Sonora had 197 yards rushing and 52 passing; Medina had the interception and Ryan Lewis had a fumble recovery while Escalon had 167 yards rushing and Rozevink was 10-for-17 in passing for 131 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
“With Baptista out, Logan Anderson had to take on the workload; he had 15 carries for 112 yards and also had 33 yards receiving, with one long 60-yard catch called back,” Beam said. “He really stepped up and we needed that from a two-year varsity guy.”
Caden Gonsalves had 10 tackles, Ryker Peters had nine and EJ Lewis added eight.
Next, the Cougars get ready to host the Kimball Jaguars in the Homecoming game on Friday, Sept. 10.
“Kimball is one of the highest ranked teams in the Sac Joaquin Section, they are fast, big, they have an outstanding quarterback and they do a lot of things like onside kicks nearly every time, they go for it on fourth down, they spread it out so we’ll have to cover guys in space,” Beam said. “This will be our biggest challenge so far and should make for an interesting Homecoming.”