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Varsity Football Cougars Close Out Perfect League Season
Riding the strength of a 20-point first quarter, the Escalon varsity football Cougars closed out a perfect Trans-Valley League season with a decisive 41-13 win over Ripon on Friday night at Engel Field.

"We were happy with the win," head coach Mark Loureiro said. "We played well in spurts, we were focused enough and ready to play."

The win gave the Cougars the Trans-Valley League title outright and put them as the top seed for the playoffs.

Charlie McDonald led the way on Friday night, scoring on the Cougars' second play from scrimmage after Ripon had to punt the ball away on their first possession. Izzy Ruiz got a few yards on the initial carry of the game, then McDonald broke free on a 47-yard touchdown run with 10:24 to play in the opening quarter. The kick was no good but the host team was on top, 6-0.

Ripon had to punt the ball away again on their next possession and the Cougars capitalized, this time McDonald going in from 9 yards out, with 4:32 to go in the first. Jason Diniz added the point after and it was a 13-0 advantage.

Escalon's defense kept the visiting Indians in check, with a sack on the next series forcing another punt and getting the Cougars into good field position. They capped the drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Spencer Franceschetti to Blake Nayer, with Nayer tipping the pass up and then pulling it in while being bothered by the Indian defender. With the point after, it was 20-0 Escalon with just over 40 seconds left in the first quarter.

Ripon finally got a sustained drive going to open the second quarter, with Efren Sifuentes getting the ball in for a touchdown from 2 yards out with 9:14 to play. The kick was wide left, but the Indians got a little closer, 20-6.

"We let our guard down a little bit for that one drive," Loureiro admitted, noting that the defense tightened up again after the Indians' scoring drive and kept them off the board until the second half, when they got one more touchdown.

The teams traded possessions as the second quarter wound down, with the Cougars getting an interception by Danny Thompson to stop a Ripon drive and the Cougars also getting the ball back on a punt, when it bounced and hit a Ripon player and was covered by Nick Largent.

Escalon also had a fumble recovered by Ripon to stop one of their drives.

The teams went in at the half with the Cougars leading 20-6 and they got the ball back to start the second half, with a nice return by Thompson to set them up for their first possession. McDonald got the carry and ran for a first down, but had to come out after twisting an ankle.

With the lead, Loureiro opted to keep him out the rest of the game.

Ruiz stepped up and started handling the ball carrying, going in for a 25-yard touchdown run with 9:22 to play in the third. The kick was good and Escalon had a 27-6 lead.

After an interception by Derrick DeFreitas on the next Indian possession, the Cougars turned it into a touchdown, Ruiz going in from 8 yards out with 7:36 to play in the third. The kick was good and it was 34-6.

Ripon fumbled on its next possession, picked up by he Cougars, but they got it back on an interception a few plays later. DeFreitas was also shaken up on that series of plays, leaving the field with a bad ankle.

Ripon turned the pick into points, scoring with less than a minute to go in the third quarter, a 23-yard run by Sifuentes. The kick was good for a 34-13 score.

Loureiro said he was happy to get all his players in during the game, with plenty of fans in the stands for Senior Night.

"We were able to get all the seniors in, everyone got some playing time," he said.

The second unit did some good work, with Steve Silva scoring the final touchdown of the night from 2 yards out with 8:57 to go in the game. The kick was good for a 41-13 lead. Tyler Gonzales added a few good runs, Jon Segale made some nice plays on defense and the second offensive unit ate up most of the fourth quarter clock, keeping the ball away from Ripon.

"I was happy for Tyler Gonzales, he had four carries for 40 yards and he has been a real hard worker for this program," Loureiro said of the senior getting some playing time. "Izzy also ran real hard for us, he had 14 carries for 100 yards, it was nice to see that."

Ruiz had a pair of scores on the night as well.

McDonald was the leading rusher, 10 carries for 118 yards and two touchdowns.

"Nick Largent led us with 11 tackles and one fumble recovery," Loureiro said of the defensive effort. "Thomas Martin had five tackles, two sacks and one fumble recovery, at inside linebacker Derrick DeFreitas had an interception and Danny Thompson had an interception for us, his fifth of the year."

Escalon had 16 first downs on the night and 406 total yards. They rushed 54 times for 332 yards and completed four-of-eight pass attempts for 74 yards with one interception and one touchdown. They fumbled twice and lost it once, and were penalized four times for 35 yards.

Ripon had 10 first downs, 204 total yards of offense, 32 rushing plays for 169 yards and 45 passing yards on 7-of-14 pass completions with two interceptions. They fumbled twice and lost it both times and were penalized four times for 45 yards.

"This was a real clean, well played game," Loureiro pointed out. "It was great to be able to finish out the season that way. We're 10-0 and we never dreamed we'd be here ... these guys are the seventh team in the history of Escalon High to go through the regular 10-game schedule 10-0."

But now that the second season is looming, Loureiro said everyone is 0-0, starting off even and though they have home field advantage through the playoffs, it will take solid football to get to the ultimate goal - a Dec. 6 game at UOP.

"We've put ourselves in the best possible position," Loureiro said. "Now we have to play the games."