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Varsity Cougars Hold Off Huskies In Thriller
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Anytime Hughson plays Escalon, you can count on a good contest.

Those attending Friday night's Trans-Valley League opener between the two rivals did not go away disappointed, as the host Cougars held on for a thrilling 10-7 victory over the Huskies.

"They played us tough there," admitted head coach Mark Loureiro. "It was a little closer than we wanted."

Both teams were eager to get into the win column to start off the league campaign, Escalon was just a field goal better than Hughson.

"Once we got the 10 points on the scoreboard, I felt confident with our defense and that we would win it," Loureiro explained.

Hughson took the opening kickoff and got one first down on their opening drive before having to punt it away. A holding call put them at third and 18 and the pass fell incomplete, forcing the punt. The shanked ball put Escalon in good field position for their first drive of the game but they weren't able to take advantage, having to punt it away as well.

The Huskies were stymied on their next possession, going three and punt, and Escalon went on a scoring drive capped by a 24-yard run from Gus Arzac. Chris Diniz added the point after for a 7-0 Escalon lead with 6:14 to play in the first quarter.

But that was all the scoring there would be in the first half, the teams trading possessions and both called for a number of penalties. The Huskies were knocking on the door at the 5:00 mark of the second quarter, using a series of pass plays to get close to a score. They had a first and goal but made no gains on two running plays, then had an incomplete pass. The Huskies went for it on fourth down but the pass again was incomplete, Escalon taking over on downs at the 4-yard line after the crucial goal-line stand.

Going into the locker room with the slim one touchdown lead, Loureiro said his goal was to take the second half kickoff and make something happen. They did just that but Escalon had the first of two touchdowns of the night called back on a penalty, the run by Arzac negated on a holding penalty on the first Cougar possession of the second half.

Escalon continued to pound away and got in position to put Diniz out for the field goal attempt instead with about six minutes to go in the third quarter. He hit it cleanly from 33 yards out, putting the host Cougars up by a 10-0 margin.

"At that point, I thought we could get out of there 10-0, 10-7 at worst," said Loureiro, noting that Hughson was conservative on offense.

Hughson tried to answer back after the field goal from Escalon but was victimized by penalties on their next possession as well.

"I thought it was a very poorly officiated game for both sides," Loureiro said, noting that he felt calls went against both teams at some point.

Hughson did score early in the fourth quarter, going in on a second effort from a yard out, Jake Avila breaking the plain. The extra point was good to get the Huskies to within 10-7 with less than a minute gone by in the final period.

"There were definitely some nerves," admitted fullback Arzac. "It was a tough one, we came out ready to play and they came out ready, too, this just made us stronger."

The Cougars had a second touchdown called back just a couple of minutes in to the fourth quarter, a spectacular leaping catch by Anthony Suniga over two defenders in the end zone negated on another holding call.

"We looked at the films and we didn't see it," Loureiro said of the penalty.

The score would have given Escalon a little breathing room but they had to be content with protecting the slim 3-point edge.

Hughson's next possession ended with a punt and the Cougars got the ball with 4:40 to play in the contest and never relinquished it after that point, sealing the win.

"It was definitely a battle," said senior Marcus Savage. "We were able to convert on some big fourth downs."

Defensive standout Steve Gentry said having the touchdowns called back brought the team down a bit but they were able to stay focused on getting the ball and holding it late in the game, keeping Hughson's offense off the field.

"We got a little overpowered on the offensive line, we just didn't win some of the match ups," Loureiro added. "Jake Brown and Steve Gentry did a nice job blocking but we got sacked three or four times."

Defensively, Marcus Savage had nine tackles, with eight from Gentry and Jesse Jimenez. Anthony Oste was solid inside with six tackles and one sack.

"I thought we did a great job on our first and second down defense, but on third down, we didn't," said Loureiro. "In the first half, they ran 35 plays to our 19, they kept us off the field."

At halftime, Loureiro said the team talked about doing a better job of blocking and knew that their first drive coming out of the locker room would be crucial. A score could deflate the Huskies while a quick possession by Escalon would give the visitors hope to tie it up. Even though hoping for a touchdown, the field goal on the opening drive did the job, putting more space between the teams.

Arzac handled the bulk of the workload for Escalon against Hughson, carrying the ball 24 times and accounting for 136 yards, scoring the only touchdown of the night.

"He pretty much was our offense," Loureiro said. "And to get the ball back in the fourth quarter and be able to run the clock out, that's impressive as a team."

Hughson came in to the game with a 1-4 mark in preseason play, compared to the 5-0 mark put up by Escalon.

"It doesn't matter," said Loureiro. "When it's Escalon-Hughson, you throw the records out."

Escalon will face another tough challenge this week, on the road to take on defending TVL champion Hilmar, game time will be about 7:30 p.m. Friday.