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Varsity Football Cougars Fall Just Short Against Yellowjackets
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Cougar Talan Reider angles toward the sideline and looks to gain some positive yardage during Friday night’s road game at Hilmar. Escalon ultimately came up one point short, falling 21-20 to the Yellowjackets. Marg Jackson/The Times

After having time to stew on a frustrating Homecoming loss to Hughson on Sept. 16, the Escalon varsity Cougars got back on the football field on Sept. 30. They were looking for some redemption; they were looking for an opportunity to get back into the running for a Trans-Valley League title.

But they left Hilmar bitterly disappointed, falling short in a 21-20 contest to the host Yellowjackets.

“The difference in the game was the PATs,” head coach Andrew Beam said simply, as Escalon struggled to convert their point after touchdown attempts and it cost them in the end. “We practice kicking three days a week … chasing these points is brutal.”

The evening started out on a positive note, as Escalon won the toss and deferred, kicking off to Hilmar to start the game. On the kickoff return, the ball was jostled loose and recovered by the Cougars.

From there, it was a one pass play, from Donovan Rozevink to Owen Nash, that went for the touchdown to put the Cougars up 6-0 with just a few seconds run off the clock.

“Nico Franzia had the fumble recovery and it was a 33-yard catch by Nash, the point after attempt was no good but we grabbed the momentum,” Beam said.

Even that was short lived, as Hilmar was able to answer back quickly, scoring on a 51-yard touchdown run and adding the extra point to go up 7-6.

The host team made it 14-6 late in the first, the Yellowjackets scoring on a 7-yard run and adding the extra point.

In the second quarter, Escalon got the running game going, as Ryker Peters scored on a seven-yard rumble. This time, going for the 2-point conversion, the Cougars were again unable to get those extra points on the board, trailing 14-12.

Second half play saw Escalon take the lead, with Nash pulling in a 15-yard pass and wrestling with the Hilmar defender all the way to the ground to make sure he held on to the ball. The touchdown was good and Nash also caught the 2-point conversion attempt to put Escalon up 20-14.

At the end of the third quarter, after a key 25-yard run by Logan Anderson, the Cougars set up for a 30-yard field goal try and the kick was ruled wide left. Some of the coaches, Beam included, felt that the kick did curve just through the uprights but officials on the field did not see it that way.

“To me, that was the possession that changed the game,” Beam admitted. “If we make it a two-score game I think there is a different outcome. And it was brutal to not get anything out of that drive.”

Hilmar got back into the end zone early in the fourth to take the 21-20 lead and Escalon could not answer that final touchdown. Escalon did mount a drive late that fans, players and coaches hoped would see the score back in the Cougars’ favor.

“We had a nice catch by Nash on that series but we took some bad penalties and stalled out,” Beam said.

A fourth quarter field goal attempt by Escalon also was blocked, securing the win for Hilmar.

Rushing, Anderson had 10 carries for Escalon for 72 yards while Peters had 15 carries for 57 yards and a touchdown. Nash had 10 catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Escalon had 17 first downs to Hilmar’s 11, Escalon punted three times and Hilmar had to punt the ball away four times.

Defensively, Nate Krieger had 11 tackles; Peters and Franzia each had a fumble recovery.

And despite now being 0-2 in TVL play, Beam said there’s plenty of football left to play.

“I feel better after this loss than I did two weeks ago,” he said of having more optimism now than when the Cougars fell to Hughson in the Homecoming game. “We just need to rally around each other.”

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Escalon’s Owen Nash hangs on to the ball and tries to escape the clutches of a Hilmar defender in action on Friday, Sept. 30 in Hilmar. The host Yellowjackets stung Escalon in the TVL contest, sending the Cougars home with a 21-20 loss. Marg Jackson/The Times