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Varsity Cougars Upend Crusaders To Claim Trans-Valley League Title
Thrusting the number one sign into the air, fists pumping exultingly, Escalon's varsity football players were able to turn the tables on their Modesto Christian opponents Friday night, celebrating a Trans-Valley League championship in enemy territory. Like the Crusaders did to close out the 2006 campaign, winning the TVL title at Engel Field, the Cougars returned the favor and put away the host Crusaders 28-14 on Friday night. Escalon savored the moment, lingering on the field with their fans to drink in their first TVL championship since 2002. "During the week the revenge factor was a big motivator," said head coach Mark Loureiro. "We felt we didn't play well against them last year and those kids that were a part of that team have been pointing to this game for a long time." From a personal standpoint, Loureiro said he couldn't have been happier for the team, which worked extremely hard to get back to the top. "This is a senior class I'm real close to, my own son is in the class and I've seen these kids grow up," Loureiro said. And for the first time since 2002, they have a TVL banner to hang in the gym. "We had a lot of great efforts Friday night," Loureiro said. Not the least of them came from senior Jake Caton, who seemed to make it his own personal mission to stop the Crusaders. Caton was an offensive machine, with nine carries for 104 yards and a touchdown, one 26-yard reception that went for a score and two huge kickoff returns, including the 63-yarder to start the game that led to the first touchdown by the Cougars. He also had a 40-yard kickoff return in the second half. "Josh May fought hard for his 76 yards on 19 carries," Loureiro added. "We worked hard for our 276 yards." Escalon took the opening kickoff on Friday night, with the huge return by Caton getting them to the 33-yard line. After short gains by May, Caton and quarterback Nick Aprile, a pass intended for Danny Thompson was broken up but the Crusaders were called for pass interference, which gave the Cougars the first down and new life. They didn't waste it, with May capping the drive with a 4-yard run. The kick by Jesus Duran was good and it was 7-0 Escalon with 7:53 to play in the opening quarter. After Modesto Christian was forced to punt on their first possession, Escalon got the ball but the drive ended with a fumble recovered by the Crusaders. They didn't capitalize and Escalon got the ball with a few minutes left on the clock. On a handoff at midfield, Caton read the blocks and turned it on, going 49 yards for the touchdown with 14 seconds left in the first quarter. With the kick by Duran, it was 14-0. Modesto Christian fumbled on the kickoff and Escalon recovered it, setting up their next score. On the first play of the second quarter, Aprile and Caton connected on the 26-yard pass play for the score. Duran added the kick and the stunned Crusaders found themselves down 21-0 with 11:53 left in the second quarter. "Once we got up 21-0, I basically cut the playbook in half," Loureiro admitted, noting he wanted to stay with what worked and not try anything that might play into Modesto Christian's favor. "The defense played great for us," Loureiro said. "They made some big stops and we had three interceptions, two of them by Danny Thompson and one by Nick, a headlong dive to get the ball." Jake Loureiro was back with a vengeance, leading the defense with 10 tackles and one sack. Aprile had eight tackles and the interception, with Brandon Collins and Joe Cowan earning high praise for solid play on both sides of the ball. "Our punt coverage and kickoff coverage was great, we got a turnover off that and often pinned them deep, you had guys like Rocky Overturf, Mike Gutierrez and Tyler Ellisen getting down the field in a hurry," said Loureiro. Escalon took the 21-0 lead into the half and Modesto Christian did get on the board in the third quarter, trimming the lead to 21-7 with a 58-yard pass play to J.T. Teixeira from Isaiah Burse. The score came with 5:16 to go in the third and gave the Crusaders a little life. The teams then traded several possessions as the third quarter gave way to the fourth and with May and Caton continuing to run the ball the bulk of the time, the Cougars also mixed in an occasional pass. The biggest completion was to Blake Nayer on a 24-yard gain midway through the fourth, giving the Cougars a first down and setting up a 5-yard run by May, his second score of the night. The kick was good and the score gave Escalon a 28-7 lead with 5:19 to play. Modesto Christian answered back on their next drive, Burse to Teixeira on an 18-yard pass play. The kick was good and it was 28-14 with 3:10 to go. The Crusaders tried the onside kick but Aprile was there to gobble it up and the Cougars held on to the ball from there, getting a couple of first downs on the possession. That allowed them to run out the clock, taking the Tran-Valley League title with a perfect 5-0 run through the league. "It was real emotional, a big night for us," Loureiro said. Escalon had 13 first downs on the night to Modesto Christian's 11, with 276 yards for Escalon compared to 232 for MC. Rushing plays saw the Cougars with 40 for 226 yards, MC 29 for 97. Passing yardage was 50 for Escalon, 135 for Modesto Christian. The Cougars had six pass attempts with three completions and two interceptions, MC had 22 attempts, eight completions and three interceptions. Each team lost a fumble, and each was penalized eight times, Escalon for 70 yards and MC for 50 yards. The Cougars had plenty of crowd support during the contest, with the game played in nearby Salida. "Our crowd was at their best and the pep squad did a nice job in getting them involved," Loureiro agreed. "Let's hope they've got a few more games in them." Escalon will start the playoffs Friday night at home, hosting Mother Lode League #3 seed Bret Harte in a 7:30 p.m. contest.