A close game at the half, some readjustments made the difference as Escalon’s varsity football team came away with an emotional 34-21 win against Hilmar on Friday, Sept. 27.
Escalon had a 14-7 lead at the half, 20-14 after three. The Cougars put two more touchdowns on the board in the fourth quarter while holding Hilmar to one final score, walking off the field with a win and some satisfaction. Hilmar defeated Escalon in overtime during the regular season last year, then ended the Cougars’ campaign in the playoffs.
“We broke the curse,” said David Camacho, one of this year’s team captains, noting that it has been a few years since the Cougars got the better of the Yellowjackets.
Head coach Andrew Beam noted that the Cougars were their “own worst enemy” in the first half.
“Our excitement and some nervousness got in the way of us doing what we planned to do,” Beam said. “We shot ourselves in the foot in the first half.”
Both teams had nerves, the Cougars had eight penalties for 50 yards in the first half, the Yellowjackets had six penalties for 50 yards.
Still, Escalon scored on a 5-yard run from Luke Anderson in the first quarter; the point after attempt was no good. The Cougars made it 14-0 on a 13-yard run by Anderson, 2-point conversion good from Ty Harris to Kaidence Trejo, with 8:09 left in the first half. Hilmar completed a pass for a touchdown and kicked the extra point to make it 14-7 with 3:57 left in the second.
The opening drive of the second half for Escalon culminated with a 58-yard scoring run from Colton Panero, the kick was no good, to make it 20-7. Jacob Walden threw the block that sprung Panero for the score. Not to be outdone, the Yellowjackets went on a long drive capped by a score, the kick was good for a 20-14 game with 4:43 to go in the third.
“I was unbelievably proud of our captains at halftime,” Beam pointed out. “There was no yelling, no calling each other out, everybody was picking each other up and agreeing we could do this thing.”
A penalty on the kickoff return didn’t slow the team, as they went 84 yards on four plays to score on their opening possession of the second half. Panero had 78 of the yards in the drive.
In the fourth quarter, Escalon got a score on a quarterback sneak from Harris with 11:11 to play, then Harris connected with Kaden Christensen for the 2-point conversion to make it 28-14.
Christensen bowled over a pair of Hilmar defenders to get in. Christensen then scored the final Cougar touchdown with 6:48 to play, going in from 4 yards out. The kick was blocked but it was a 34-14 lead.
A touchdown pass by Hilmar with 4:12 remaining, kick good, made it a 34-21 game and that’s where the scoring ended.
“I don’t even know how to explain it,” Panero – winner of the belt for the outstanding performance of the game – admitted of the victory. “It was so much fun to play against our biggest rivals.”
He said team members did pick each other up at halftime and came out more determined for the third and fourth quarters.
“I never had a locker room that positive,” Walden said of the team’s mindset at halftime. “We knew this team was tough but we’ve had a chip on our shoulder for the last two years … it feels great, amazing, it feels like I have completed something.”
Christensen agreed and added that the Cougars just threw too many weapons at Hilmar.
“They can’t stop all of us,” he pointed out. “We just knew we had to come out and play our game.”
Escalon had 327 yards rushing, 112 passing for 439 total yards. Hilmar had 134 yards rushing, 111 passing for 245 total yards. Panero ran the ball eight times for 145 yards; Anderson 24 carries for 114 yards; Christensen, 14-for-56.
Defensively, Bryan Hale had a fumble recovery and five tackles; Panero had six tackles and both Camacho and Walden had five tackles and a sack. Christensen and Damien Tom also each recorded five tackles.
“Amazing,” Tom said in using one word to describe the feeling after the game. “They’re a good team, well coached, we knew it would be a fight but I felt like we weren’t going to lose, we wanted it more.”
Beam said with the win, the Cougars start the league season 1-0 and control their own destiny but must take each game as it comes. They get ready to host Modesto Christian on Friday, Oct. 4 for Homecoming with kickoff at 7 p.m.
“In the second half we played more as a team,” added Anderson. “Now we prepare for Modesto Christian like we’ll prepare for everyone, we’ll see what happens from here.”