They got their mojo back.
Now all they have to do is keep it.
With a first round bye for the playoffs, the Escalon Cougars will look to heal some bumps and bruises, rest for a bit, then hit it hard as they look forward to a Nov. 15 playoff game.
Escalon was awarded the number one seed in Division VI and is coming off a satisfying 42-17 regular season finale victory over visiting Hughson.
The Friday, Nov. 1 game saw the Cougars claim a share of the Trans-Valley League title, again a three-way split between Ripon, Hilmar and Escalon.
As they have done for the past few seasons, the teams have tied atop the standings. This year, Escalon defeated Hilmar, Hilmar defeated Ripon and Ripon defeated Escalon, each squad with just one loss in TVL play.
Escalon went 9-1 overall and were 5-1 in league.
“I told the kids, we got a little bit of a groove back,” head coach Andrew Beam said of assessing the 42-17 defeat of Hughson. “We still turned the ball over two times and we can’t do that in the playoffs against quality teams and win.”
So there is still much to work on but the team can enjoy the share of the TVL title for a little bit.
“Colton Panero, Kaden Christensen and Luke Anderson, the way they ran Friday, that’s right where they need to be,” Beam said. “Ty Harris, after having his first throw of the night intercepted, then went 7-for-9.”
The Cougars were hitting on all cylinders against Hughson, even though the visiting Huskies took the opening kickoff and parlayed it into a field goal to take a short-lived 3-0 lead.
Escalon answered back with two touchdowns of their own in the first quarter, Christensen scoring on a 54-yard rushing play on the second play from scrimmage and then Panero plunging in from a yard out. The point after was good both times from Brayan Barrientos for a 14-3 lead.
It was 28-3 at the half, Panero on a 14-yard rush, kick good and Kaidence Trejo pulling in a pass that was floated perfectly over the top of the defender in the corner of the end zone to cap the first half effort. Trejo made an over the shoulder catch, the pass from Harris from 26 yards out.
“In the third quarter, Colton scored on a seven-yard run and the kick was good to make it 35-3 but Hughson answered,” Beam said.
That cut it to 35-10, but a 12-yard run from Christensen bumped the score back up to 42-10. Barrientos was a perfect 6-for-6 on extra points.
Hughson tacked on one touchdown in the fourth quarter for the 42-17 final.
“The best thing I saw was Luke Anderson running like Luke can,” Beam said. “He just punished guys all night, he had 12 carries for 92 yards. We need that guy to run like that in the playoffs.”
Defensively, Jacob Walden had a huge game with seven tackles and three sacks, Logan Webster added five tackles and a sack. Bryan Hale and Damien Tom added sacks as well as the Cougars kept pressure on the Huskies all night.
“We had to turn the ship around,” said Christensen, noting the Cougars had to come back from a loss to Ripon and finish the season strong. “We get that share of the TVL title, we get a bye week, we want to make a run deep into playoffs. Going out on a win here on Senior Night is a memory I’ll never forget.”
Walden, awarded the Ball-Out Belt as the game’s top performer, said the win was a feel good moment, but there is more work to do.
“We need to get healthy, work on the mental preparation,” he said, adding that the Cougars don’t really care who they will have to face in the playoffs, they just want to do well. “The competition makes us excited.”
Trejo added that they knew it would be a tough game against Hughson, which always comes prepared, but the varsity squad was ready.
“We feel very good headed into the playoffs, we’ve been peaking,” Trejo said.
Both Escalon, the top seed, and Hilmar, number two in D-VI, have first round byes in the playoffs.
Escalon will host a game on Friday, Nov. 15 at 7 p.m., taking on the winner of the first round match between number eight Linden and number nine Hughson.
“The bye week is much needed,” Beam said of having time to get some players healthy. “This week is all about rest and recovery and focusing on us, getting ourselves better.”
The coach is eager to see his team back in top form for the playoff push.
“Goal number one was getting the TVL championship,” Beam said. “Goal number two is to be playing football on Thanksgiving.”