Where do you start?
That was the thought of Escalon head coach Andrew Beam, whose varsity football Cougars got arguably their biggest win of the season on Friday night – and got contributions from multiple players in a thorough thrashing of Ripon in a 38-7 Homecoming victory.
“We went back and looked and it had been three years since we had beaten these guys,” Beam said of matching up against rival Ripon in a pivotal Trans-Valley League contest.
Scoring two touchdowns in the first quarter and keeping Ripon out of the end zone for the entire first half, Escalon crafted their sweetest victory of the season, handing Ripon its first loss.
“Where do you start, with a game like that, a night, a week,” Beam said of the festive Homecoming atmosphere, a huge supportive crowd and a varsity team that was ready for battle. “The stands were packed, it was electric. We knew it would be a night these guys were going to remember either way but you just had the feeling, it’s our time. We told the kids it was their time, they needed to seize the opportunity.”
Beam said the team did a walk-through of their game plan in the gym at halftime of the JV game, “which we never do,” the coach noted – and he said it was during that run through that coaches saw the focus on their players’ faces, saw the resolve in their demeanor.
After two tough losses to start the season, the Cougars got a big win on the road at Riverbank before coming back home to host Ripon, looking to even their TVL record.
“It was a night where the offense joined the defensive party,” explained Beam. “Our defense has been averaging giving up eight points per game, it has just been unbelievable. I was worried maybe we didn’t have the athleticism to contain Ripon but the defensive line got pressure all night and he (quarterback Ryan Daggett) had nowhere to go.”
While the defense handcuffed Ripon, the offense got on a roll.
“Ripon had only given up 49 total points all season,” Beam said of their first seven contests, with the Cougars nearly equaling that in one game, hanging 38 on the Indians.
Friday night, Ripon won the toss and deferred, giving Escalon the first possession of the night. It was a decision they would pay for just a few minutes later, as Escalon cashed in with a touchdown on a slant pass from Lucciano Dutra to Kaidence Trejo, a 57-yard scoring strike.
“That came after a pass interference call on Ripon and Kaidence came across the field hard and made a tough catch with the defender on him,” Beam said.
With the point after from Jose Mendes, it was 7-0 Cougars with 8:37 left in the first quarter. The quick strike energized the home crowd even further.
“Right after that, our defense comes back and gets the stop, then we go on a 95-yard drive that ends with a Jordan Gwartney 33-yard touchdown run,” added the coach.
Mendes again put the point after touchdown through, making it 14-0 with just under a minute to play in the opening frame.
Neither team got into the end zone in the second quarter, with an interception by Trejo on the 5-yard line stopping a Ripon drive short. Escalon narrowly missed adding some more points in the closing seconds of the first half as well. Still, said Beam, they felt good headed into the locker room with the 14-0 lead.
“Give Ripon credit, they came out in the third quarter and made some adjustments; they scored and then we went on a three and out,” Beam said.
The touchdown came with 8:30 to play in the third.
It looked as though the Indians might be able to swing the momentum in their favor after that strike, but then what Beam calls the pivotal play in the game happened.
On an Escalon punt, the Indian receiver called for the fair catch but did not get the ball cleanly; it bounced away from him and both Cougars and Ripon players converged near the sidelines.
“Our guys got it, Frank Leal came away with it and that was the play of the game, it was a real turning point,” said Beam. “After that I feel Ripon really never had a chance.”
Dutra connected with Kaden Christensen on a six-yard pass play, Christensen pulling it down in the corner of the end zone; the point after was good by Mendes for a 21-7 edge with 4:42 to go in the third. Helping set up the score was a huge catch and run by Devin Roberson, gaining 32 yards on the pass play from Dutra.
Another Escalon score came a few minutes later, with some tough running yards gained by Luke Anderson, and Colton Panero able to go in from four yards out. With the kick, it was 28-7 with 1:40 left in the third.
Each score kicked up the excitement level on the Escalon sideline and in the stands, while the Ripon players seemed deflated and defeated.
An explosive run from Christensen to start the fourth quarter set up what would be an eventual 37-yard field goal from Mendes, making it 31-7.
“We stopped them on a three and out and then Colton put the final nail in the coffin on a 61-yard run, untouched, into the end zone,” Beam said.
Mendes stayed perfect on the night, sending the final point after through the uprights for the 38-7 final. The Cougars got the last score with four-and-a-half minutes to go in the game but Ripon could never get back into the end zone.
“It all came together; we had 508 yards of total offense,” Beam said.
Multiple players figured in, with Roberson having two catches for 83 yards; Christensen with a touchdown reception and eight carries for 112 yards; Gwartney had two carries for 67 yards and a touchdown. Trejo found the end zone on a 57-yard reception, while Panero had six carries for 120 yards and a pair of touchdowns; Anderson had 13 carries for 44 yards. Dutra completed five of seven passes for 95 yards while Christensen also has a pass completion, connecting on a 51-yard pass to Roberson.
“Defensively, Colton had eight tackles, Nash Satnat had a great game at linebacker and Jacob Walden had seven tackles and two-and-a-half sacks,” Beam said as the Cougars managed to frustrate the Indians throughout the night. “Kaidence Trejo had an interception, Kaden Christensen had an interception to seal the win and Damien Tom had one-and-a-half sacks and a fumble recovery.”
Ripon had 188 yards rushing and 115 passing for 303 total yards. Escalon had 146 yards passing and 362 on the ground.
Ripon had 13 penalties for 100 yards and Escalon had 11 penalties for 95 yards.
The first presentation of a special Cougar belt was made as well, the belt similar to those won by professional wrestlers in championship matches, and was given to Trejo for his huge impact on the game.
There were a number of players in the running, said Beam, because it was a total team effort.
The Cougars also broke out their all black uniforms for the Homecoming festivities, which Beam said had been kept quiet all week, and was well-received by the crowd.
“It’s a week they’ll remember for a long time in a positive way,” the coach added of the 2018 Homecoming.
To end Ripon’s undefeated streak, to beat your rival for the first time in three years and to situate yourself back into the thick of the playoff hunt … it doesn’t get much better, Beam said.
Watching the game film back, the coach added that his favorite play was the final one of the night – the one where the student body rushed on to the field to celebrate the victory with the team.