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Varsity Cougars Connect On Ground, Through Air For Win
By the time it was over, the scoreboard read 47-26 in favor of the visiting Escalon Cougars.

But it started out as a back-and-forth affair, with the host Linden Lions drawing first blood and the teams in a knock down, drag out fight in the opening quarter, a frame that saw the visitors leading 21-14 after just 12 minutes of action on Friday night in varsity football.

Escalon won the toss and opted to kick off, a move that Linden quickly turned in to a touchdown. After the kickoff return to the 35, the Lions moved fast against the Cougar defense and quarterback Aaron Alvarez connected on a couple of big pass plays before handing the ball off to Jeremy Powers, who rumbled 38 yards for the touchdown. The kick was good for a 7-0 Linden lead.

After a nice kickoff return by Escalon's Josh Miguel to midfield, a rushing play was stopped short, but quarterback Spencer Franceschetti hooked up with Nick Largent on a 49-yard pass play for the score with 9:52 to play. Jason Diniz tacked on the extra point for the 7-7 tie.

Another exchange of scores knotted the teams at 14-14 with 4:37 to go in the opening quarter, Steve Silva pulling in a 5-yard pass from Franceschetti for the Cougars. Escalon's Travis Cardoza recovered a Linden fumble on their next series and they turned that in to a touchdown, Josh Miguel making a nifty cut back across the field to outrace all the defenders and taking a dive into the end zone. The kick was good for a 21-14 lead for the Cougars with 4:13 left in the first quarter.

"We scored quick," head coach Mark Loureiro admitted.

The coach, who earned his district-leading 206th win on the night, said he wasn't concerned that his team would put points on the board. Keeping the Lions off of it, he said, was the real test.

"We didn't realize how good their quarterback was," Loureiro admitted. "And that kid that is 6-7, (wide receiver Aaron Judge) he's a handful."

Even though the teams were in a shooting match in the first quarter, Loureiro kept his cool.

"We didn't hit the panic button," he explained. "Offensively, we knew they couldn't stop us. So we told our defense to get us a couple of stops, get the turnover, after that first quarter, we were always able to keep a two-score difference."

A 50-yard run from Silva and a 37-yard run by Diniz added to the point total in the second quarter, with Linden scoring on a pass play to make it a 34-20 lead for Escalon at the half.

"As a team offensively, all three backs did well," Loureiro said.

Silva had 18 carries for 196 yards and three touchdowns, two on the ground and one through the air; Miguel had nine carries for 93 yards and a touchdown; Diniz had 11 carries for 88 yards and a touchdown.

Silva scored on a 58 yard run in the third, and fourth quarter scoring saw Silva go in from a yard out and Linden get a 2-yard run from Powers for the 47-26 final.

Loureiro said Linden was keying on the Escalon running game early, so they used that opportunity to get the air attack going, Franceschetti striking for two quick TD passes.

"Those opened up the running lanes," Loureiro said. "We had 377 rushing yards and that's due to all those kids up front on that offensive line."

With Linden working out of the shotgun for much of the night, the Cougars substituted frequently on defense, getting kids a rest when possible. The toughest match up was against Judge, with the Cougars trying to keep him from getting his hands on the ball.

Defensively, Nick Largent paced the team with 11 tackles and one interception; Brandon Shaw had seven tackles, as did Miguel and Derrick DeFreitas came up with six tackles. J.D. Visser and Nijoel Meyer each recorded a sack.

"We made some plays but we just weren't happy on defense," Loureiro said, noting that they would change up the strategy if they were to face Linden again.

Still, it was another win for the Cougars.

"Good teams find different ways to win," the coach said, noting that this week it was the offense that made the difference.

Linden ran 70 plays to Escalon's 44, but the Cougars were more efficient in their scoring, improving to 4-0 on the season.

This week, they host Bret Harte for Homecoming with kickoff about 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 9 at Engel Field.

Escalon, Riverbank, Modesto Christian and Ripon were the Trans-Valley League teams taking non-league victories this week, with Riverbank topping Waterford, MC upending Argonaut and Ripon downing Bret Harte. Amador topped Hughson, while Denair beat Ripon Christian in other games featuring TVL squads.