A couple of plays – and just a few points – separate Escalon from an 0-2 start to the Trans-Valley League season to a 2-0 showing.
They fell to visiting Hilmar by a 20-17 final in overtime on Sept. 21 and took a 7-6 loss on the road Friday, Sept. 28 at Modesto Christian.
But it was a lucky catch and a fourth quarter ‘do over’ for the Crusaders that put them in the win column.
The game was also marked by animosity – from Modesto Christian players taunting Escalon outside the locker room before the game began to a late hit away from the play at the end of the contest – that saw no handshake between the teams and no gathering in the end zone for the Cougars for the traditional postgame huddle.
Administrators on both sides hustled players off the field after the hit on Kaidence Trejo near the sideline knocked him off his feet and nearly caused a fist fight. There was pushing and shoving on both sides with just a few seconds left in the game and the clock ran out as teams were ushered from the gridiron. Trejo was tended to on the sidelines by trainers and left the field on a cart, with Colton Panero riding along to support his teammate, who had taken the hard helmet to helmet hit that resulted in an ejection for the MC player.
“Our kids are playing their butts off and there are just one or two little things that cost us,” head coach Andrew Beam said.
The Cougars played to a 4-0 mark in the preseason but haven’t been able to craft that first league victory for their new head coach just yet. They came close on Friday night, holding a team that typically goes off for 40 or more points to just one touchdown – and a fortuitous one at that.
The score came late in the second quarter, with a pass flung toward the end zone by Crusaders quarterback Hayden Sauser. With three Cougars in the area and one Modesto Christian player, all four went up for the ball – which was tipped by a Cougar – and then all went down, with the ball falling onto the chest of the MC player on his back in the end zone. The kick was good and it was 7-0 Crusaders.
Escalon got their touchdown in the third quarter after a sustained drive, Bryan Hale going in from eight yards out. The snap was bad on the point after attempt and the kick never got off, making the score 7-6.
A fluke play in the fourth quarter also impacted the contest.
“We get a sack by Damien Tom, a strip sack and the officials blew the play dead,” Beam explained.
However, after the strip, a Crusader player picked up the fumbled ball and ran, but still was stopped well short of the first down marker on a crucial conversion.
After a conference, the officiating corps indicated that it had been an inadvertent whistle and instead of the Cougars getting the ball, the Crusaders had the option of taking the ball where the play ended after the player scooped up the fumble or to play the down over.
They opted for the latter and this time, converted on the first down attempt to keep the ball away from the Cougars.
Escalon fans were outraged by the call and also took issue with a pre-game statement by the MC head coach regarding the fact that he is “not fond” of the Cougars.
Beam said he felt the statement was unprofessional, and set the tone for the animosity that grew between the teams throughout the contest.
“It was such an emotional play and the swing that came with it,” he added of the ‘do over’ for the Crusaders.
Still, he pointed out, there were chances for the Cougars to get in the end zone that they didn’t convert and mistakes they made including a couple of interceptions and a fumble that took away their own momentum. Escalon got a crucial 23-yard reception from Kaden Christensen on the pass from Lucciano Dutra to put the Cougars within range but the fumble at the 2-yard line stopped what looked to be a scoring drive.
“We are just in a learning stage,” Beam added.
He said the team gave their all and holding the Crusaders to a single touchdown is something they can build on moving forward. That, and the fact that their defense sacked Sauser more than half a dozen times and harassed him all night showed that they can keep opposing high powered offenses under control.
“We put ourselves in a bad position by not capitalizing on our chances,” Beam said.
Down 7-0 at the half, Beam said his team came out motivated and scored early in the third, but the missed extra point came back to haunt them as they lost by the single point, 7-6. A decision to go for it at the 22-yard line on a fourth and one later in the game also stopped a drive; Beam said he considered the field goal attempt but with the prior bad snap on the extra point and the wind blowing in their face, he felt the odds were better at getting a yard on the ground to continue the drive. Unfortunately, they didn’t get the yard and turned the ball over on downs.
“The defensive effort was unbelievable,” Beam added. “Modesto Christian was bigger, faster, stronger … but we were the tougher team.”
David Camacho and Cole Gilbert had two sacks each while Jacob Walden had three and Tom had the strip sack. All four players also had between six and seven tackles, while Colton Panero added 11.
Offensively, it was tough going for both sides.
“We averaged 3.2 yards per carry, they averaged 3.5,” Beam said. “They ran 60 plays and we ran 44, they completed six passes and we completed five.”
Modesto Christian had 163 rushing yards and 86 passing; Escalon had 95 yards on the ground and 51 through the air. Luke Anderson had 51 rushing yards to lead the Cougars.
“We turned the ball over three times to their one,” Beam said.
Escalon will look to reverse its fortunes this week, as they travel to Riverbank to face off against the Bruins.
“We’ve lost to the number one and number three rated teams in the district by a combined four points,” Beam said of the team being in both of their TVL contests. “If they keep believing and we can get this offense rolling, we’ll get the wins. As much as this one hurt, if the guys keep working and keep believing, we’ve got a great opportunity.”
The Friday night contest at Riverbank will feature just one game, as the Bruins have folded their JV team. Kickoff for the varsity will be at 7 p.m.