TIMES PHOTOS BY MARG JACKSON
A strong offensive line, a swarming defense and a battle tested team combined to pave the way to a 41-21 victory at Oakdale on Friday night, Sept. 15 as the varsity football Cougars closed out their preseason with a win. They improved to 4-1 and have a bye this Friday night, Sept. 22, before starting the Trans-Valley League schedule at Hughson on Sept. 29.
A 28-14 lead at halftime gave the Cougars some breathing room and the host Mustangs left the field after two quarters knowing they had a lot of work to do to get back in the game.
“We felt really good going into this game, we play two very similar styles of offense and defense,” said head coach Andrew Beam. “We felt we were the more athletic team. It was absolutely fun and a great way to go into our bye week.”
There were standouts up and down the roster, but Beam said the work being done right now by the offensive line has to be front and center. Those players are Ryan Murphy at right tackle, Gio Chavez at right guard, Darius Higby at center, Ben Lora at left tackle and Anthony Jones at left guard. Not only are they providing protection for quarterback Donovan Rozevink, they are also opening up holes for the runners to get through.
“It needs to be noted,” Beam said. “That group is really playing well.”
The game featured the presentation of the 120 Cup, which is designed to be a perpetual trophy, going to the winner of the Escalon-Oakdale non-league match each year.
Oakdale won the toss Friday night and deferred, which put Escalon on a long drive that resulted in a 9-yard touchdown pass from Rozevink to Sam Jimenez for the score, Talan Reider added the point after. Oakdale was able to answer right back, though, on a drive that saw them score on a 3-yard plunge, kick good, to knot the score at 7-7.
“In the second quarter we exploded for 21 points,” Beam said, with an 11-yard catch by Jimenez, and a 2-yard rush from Josh Graham to make it 21-7.
Oakdale got one back on a 42-yard pass play to trim the lead to 21-14 but Escalon went on a 75-yard drive and Jamin Miller found the end zone on a 33-yard catch and run, kick good by Reider, to make it 28-14. Jimenez ended an Oakdale threat with an interception as time expired in the first half.
“We knew Oakdale would come out strong in the second half,” Beam said of the Mustangs getting the ball to start the third quarter. “They marched down to the 3-yard line and we had a great goal line stand, that was really the turning point in the game; they ran a counter and Jamin Miller made a great play, it was the play we needed.”
Escalon took over at the 3-yard line after the failed Oakdale drive that ate up much of the third quarter. Escalon held on to the ball into the fourth, when Rozevink and Jimenez combined on another score, a 5-yard touchdown pass, and the kick good to make it 35-14 early in the fourth.
It was then Beam felt the game was safely in hand, as the Mustangs had no answer for the Cougar attack.
Escalon’s final touchdown came on a 17-yard pass play from Rozevink to Ryan Lewis. The kick was no good but it was 41-14 with just a few minutes to go.
“The defense played awesome all night,” Beam said, adding that Oakdale’s last score came late in the game after Escalon turned it over on downs and the Mustangs took advantage of the good field position to get one last touchdown, making the final 41-21.
“The plan was that if we could throw the football against Oakdale we would have a lot of success,” Beam said.
Rozevink was 17-for-25 for 285 yards and five touchdowns, aided by some tremendous catches by his receivers: Miller, Jimenez, Reider and Lewis.
Escalon had 461 total yards of offense and 21 first downs while the defensive effort was paced by Nate Krieger with 11 tackles; a sack and a fumble recovery by Lewis; eight tackles from Miller and an interception by Jimenez.