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Varsity Courgar Defense Rips Apart Ripon
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With just four ticks of the clock remaining in the first half, Gus Arzac plunged in from the 1-yard line to get Escalon on the board.

That plunge made all the difference in the world, as the varsity Cougars came back from an early 9-0 deficit to defeat Ripon 21-9 in Friday night football action.

"That's the whole ballgame," head coach Mark Loureiro said simply. "We don't get in before halftime, I don't know that we win that game, it gave us momentum to come out in the second half."

Traveling to Ripon for the contest, Escalon took the opening kickoff but had only a quick possession, punting it away. Ripon's first possession of the night featured a couple of first down plays and the first of what would be seven pass interference calls on Escalon during the contest.

"That was hard on all of us," Loureiro said, noting that all the calls came on one side of the field. "I can believe three or four could have happened, but seven? I'm in shock still."

The Cougars, however, were able to overcome the consistent moving of the chains by Ripon on the penalties to take the crucial win.

The host Indians did take the lead in the first quarter, failing to convert on a couple of pass plays in the end zone and settling for a field goal to go up 3-0 with 6:28 to play in the first. The Cougars moved into position on their next possession to go for the tie but the field goal attempt from Chris Diniz was ruled wide left and the visitors were kept off the board.

In the second quarter, it looked as though the tide was turning the Cougars' way, as they recovered a fumble late in the period, setting them up to take over at their own 31-yard line. But the first play after the recovery was a pass, and quarterback Andrew Beam was picked off by Justin Graham, who returned it 78 yards for the touchdown. The extra point was blocked by Arzac but the Indians took a 9-0 lead with 1:08 to play in the first half.

After Ripon's first kickoff went out of bounds, Escalon took the second and had good field position, with Beam firing a strike to Anthony Suniga at the 9-yard line as the Cougars started to move. Two incomplete passes later - including one that was just missed by Marcus Savage in the end zone - the Cougars took a time out with 23 seconds left in the half. Then it was Beam, connecting with Suniga again, catching the ball at the 1-yard line. Faced with a fourth down, the Cougars opted to go for it all and Arzac took the handoff, pushing his way through to the end zone. Diniz added the point after and the Cougars were right back in the game, trailing 9-7 at the half.

"Our defense only gave up three points," said Loureiro, noting that the lone touchdown for Ripon came on the interception return. "Marcus Savage and Anthony Suniga played really well in the secondary, both in tackling and on pass defense."

Arzac also had an outstanding night with 11 tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery. Jesse Jimenez had eight tackles, Suniga added seven.

"Anthony Oste and Sean O'Neill both had big sacks for us," Loureiro said. "Everyone played real hard and we contained them, except for their first drive."

In the second half, Escalon came out with momentum on their side and used that to their advantage, Beam hooking up with Jason Chandley on a 56-yard pass play, good for the touchdown, with 4:17 to play in the third quarter. The Cougars tried to tack on the 2-point conversion but failed, though the score gave them a 13-9 lead.

The Cougar defense really tightened it up then, forcing Ripon to punt the ball away on their next possession. Escalon got a big first down catch from Suniga, a first down carry from Savage, a costly holding call on Ripon to get an automatic first down and a touchdown toss from Beam to Steve Gentry on their next possession to get a little breathing room. Gentry pulled down the 5-yard toss, all alone in the end zone, and Savage caught the 2-point conversion pass from Beam for a 21-9 lead with 9:34 to play in the game.

From there, the two teams ground it out, trading possessions. Escalon had one more field goal attempt but the referees ruled that one wide as well, though it had plenty of distance. There were plenty of pass interference calls left, though Ripon was not able to take advantage of them, with the Cougar defense stepping up to the occasion and batting away several passes over the final few minutes of the contest.

Escalon took over on downs at the 7-yard line with 1:05 to play and Beam took the knee a couple of times, sealing the big win.

"I knew Ripon was one of the best defenses in the league," said Loureiro. "But we settled in, we got our best game of the season out of Anthony Suniga, he had three catches for 81 yards and they were all big plays."

Jason Chandley caught two passes for 67 yards, Gentry had three catches for 49 yards.

"In the second half, we moved the ball consistently, we did some things right," added Loureiro. "We challenged the kids about being physical."

The coach mentioned that fact in his post-game huddle with players, praising the effort.

"When you play like men, that's what the scoreboard looks like," he said, indicating the 21-9 victory. "That's the way to come off a tough Hilmar game and send a message."

Senior Anthony Oste said all the players knew what was at stake going in to the contest.

"We needed to do something, we knew we could play to our ability," he said of taking the win. "I'm excited about the road from here."

Defensive standout O'Neill, also a senior, added that the victory was not only one of necessity, but one of pride.

"We just had to come out and play, show them how Cougars play football," he said.

The early deficit, Arzac admitted, caused some frustration for the squad but he said they never stopped believing they could defeat the Indians.

"We kept our heads in there," Arzac said. "At halftime, the coach just challenged us to come out and play."

That challenge was answered by the Cougars, who improved to 2-1 in Trans-Valley League play with the win. They will be at home for the final two regular season games and Loureiro said they need to win both to assure themselves of solid positioning in the playoffs.

"We want to go as the number two seed, so we need to win the last two to assure ourselves of that second place," he said. "This win puts us in the driver's seat."

Escalon will host Livingston on Friday, Nov. 5 at Engel Field.