Times Photos By Marg Jackson
There were tears and plenty of raw emotion as the inaugural Escalon varsity flag football season came to an abrupt end on Engel Field. The Wednesday night, Nov. 1 semifinal contest in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 2 playoffs went to the visiting St. Mary’s Rams, 12-6, though what turned out to be the winning touchdown came on a disputed play to end the first half.
The ruling on the field was a catch and touchdown; video of the play as well as photographs showed the St. Mary’s player attempting to cradle the ball but one end was clearly on the ground and her knees came down short of the goal line. She stretched her body out after grabbing up the ball and leaned in to the end zone, getting the touchdown call from the official.
With the Escalon coaches and crowd pleading for the referees to confer, the ruling nonetheless stood and the home team coaching crew was warned to stay off the field.
That made it a 12-0 lead for St. Mary’s at halftime and though Escalon got on the board in the second half, they ran out of time and fell by the 12-6 decision.
St. Mary’s used a deep passing game to take the lead and Escalon came back with a score of their own in the second half, turning a Hannah Wampler interception into a scoring drive. Sammy Lang found Violette Kent for the touchdown after crucial completions to Rayah McNulty and Helena Arroya kept the drive alive, said head coach Steve Largent. Jasmine Barron and Wampler picked up yardage on the ground.
Alyssa Ball finished with a game high 11 tackles, Lang completed 7-of-9 passes for 58 yards and the scoring strike.
For Largent, this was a team that made history. They won the quarterfinals on a two-point conversion to advance to the semifinals. And though they didn’t get to the title game – where St. Mary’s lost 6-0 to Christian Brothers Academy – it was a special run.
“These senior girls were in my eighth-grade history class when we got sent home from COVID for two weeks … and I never got to see them again,” Largent said of that spring 2020 shutdown that extended far in to the next school year. “I told them that our first meeting, on a hot summer day in the classroom, I said we’re getting time back. You know, the powers that be are giving us that time back to do something special.”
Largent said the team bought in to the culture: hard work, passion, energy. “You can do anything you put your mind to” was the message he planned to deliver in the locker room.
“We captured the heart and soul of the community,” the coach added. “The prize is this program that they built; they are always going to be able to look back and say ‘I was first’.”
Senior captains on the team were Alyssa Ball, Violette Kent, Sammy Lang and Hannah Wampler.
“It was amazing; it’s different than other sports I’ve played. I’m not the best at this sport, I have other sports that I’m better at but being able to be a part of this team and be one of the captains was an honor,” Ball said following the season ending loss, her voice full of emotion.
It also provides a segue into her winter sport, soccer.
“Honestly it helped a lot with my rolls, like if I’m falling I can get back up and I’m definitely not afraid to body check people,” she said.
Kent also is proud of what the team accomplished.
“I think it was really amazing; there’s a lot of things I will take away. I think we all really grew and it was just a great experience,” she explained. “I learned a lot of leadership, and I made a lot of close friendships with this and I just think it’s a great thing that we started.”
Lang said down by two touchdowns in the first half of the semifinal game was seen as more of an opportunity to be better in the second half.
“He just said ‘keep your heads up, the game’s not done’,” Lang said of the talk from coach Largent. “That drive that we got that touchdown (in the second half) I felt like we were all clicking … clicking, clicking, clicking but we just … time kills. I had a really great season with everybody and all the memories we share; we’ll remember forever.”
For Wampler, who was crowned as Homecoming Queen a few weeks ago on Engel Field, this time there were tears of sadness instead of joy.
“I think maybe some of us underestimated the other team,” she admitted, having shut out the Rams earlier this season. “We don’t have much time in between each game to really prepare … they are a fast team and they made it here for a reason, and so did we; we just ran out of time.”
With more than 20 wins in their first season and making it to the Section semifinals, Wampler said there is plenty to build on.
“Words can’t even describe how grateful I am to be a part of this and it’s honestly changed my life,” she shared. “I’ve learned what real teamwork means and I’ve gotten to create new friendships that I never thought I would and lots of memories. You know as the years go on, we’ll be the ones who started it and always look back to how our team did it and it can only grow from here.”