Billed as the ‘Friday Knight Lights’ Tournament since it was hosted by the Downey High School Knights, the Escalon varsity and JV football teams made the most of the recent trip to neighboring Modesto.
Both levels took down all comers, first in pool play, then in the semifinal round and each squad also prevailing in the championship contest.
Varsity head football coach Andrew Beam said it was great to see both levels get the title, with plenty of outstanding action on the night as both the JV and varsity went 5-0. The Friday Knight Lights event was hosted by Downey on June 24.
“There were 12 teams in the varsity bracket,” Beam said. “In pool play, we defeated Gregori, Ceres and Central Valley and that put us in the semifinals against Stagg of Stockton, we were able to beat them by a couple of scores.”
Escalon’s varsity then faced off with host school Downey for the Friday Knight Lights title.
“These were 25-minute games and it was back and forth, they go quick,” noted Beam.
Tied 16-16 with about four minutes left to go, Beam said that’s when the Cougars took the lead for good.
“It was a pass from Donovan Rozevink to Owen Nash, a 35-yard play,” the coach said. “Then we went for the two-point conversion, Rozevink threw it to Logan Anderson, who caught it while on his back, to make it 24-16.”
Downey then had about a minute and a half to try and move the ball into scoring position.
“They could not get it done,” Beam said, with the Knights unable to get into the end zone before time expired, securing the varsity Cougars the championship.
That also gave Escalon “back to back” championships at the Downey event, though with a two-year break in between due to the pandemic.
Even better than the championship, said Beam, was watching his varsity players go support the JV team, which was on the other end of the field taking on Trans-Valley League rival Hughson. In that championship game, the JV Cougars came out on top in dramatic fashion.
“Our guys ran down there, they didn’t even take time to celebrate their championship,” Beam explained. “They wanted to go support the younger players and it was great to see that camaraderie.”
JV head coach Brant Rose said it was an exciting game to be a part of and satisfying to defeat a fellow TVL team.
“We have had a couple of basic passing practice sessions at Downey for the past couple of Tuesdays,” Rose said, “but this was our first tournament of the summer.”
At the JV level, there were eight teams taking part and Escalon defeated Beyer, Enochs and Stagg in pool play. From there, they faced off with the second place team in the other bracket, which was host school Downey.
“We beat them in the semifinal and that put us in the championship game where we played Hughson so it was a TVL final,” Rose said. “Hughson scored on a 40-yard touchdown pass right off the bat, then they intercepted us in our end zone on our first drive.”
Though it started out rough, the JV Cougars kept up the fight. They were down 17-7 with 1:20 left on the clock.
“It was a running clock, Hughson had the ball and they were just trying to run it out,” Rose said. “But then our corner, Sam Jimenez, intercepted the ball and that put the ball at the 35-yard line.”
Escalon also got three points for the interception, closing to within 17-10.
Quarterback Logan Huebner then completed a long pass to Chase Cummings for the touchdown, which made it 17-16.
“In the tournament, an extra point try from 5 yards out is good for one point, from the 10-yard line it’s for two points,” said Rose. “We wanted to win the game so we went for the two points; Logan got the ball to Cason Medina for the winning conversion.”
That gave Escalon the 18-17 win in a wild three-play sequence – scoring on every play – in that last 80 seconds.
“They all got to witness it,” Rose said of the varsity players, who were fresh off their own victory and came to cheer on their younger counterparts. “It was a lot of fun.”
Rose said going in, the team felt pretty confident with the strength in the skill positions at the JV level but still had plenty of question marks. The play at this tournament, he said, helped answer some questions but they still have plenty of work to do prior to the 2022 season starting in August.
“This was our only tournament and it was a pleasant surprise,” Rose added. “We came away feeling really hopeful.”
Meanwhile, the varsity team will have one more tournament this summer before having to put away the shoulder pads and helmets.
The tournament, Beam said, is scheduled for Thursday, June 30 at Stagg High School in Stockton.
“There won’t be any JV tournament but we are taking some linemen for the varsity linemen challenge,” Beam noted.
And, he said, the Friday, June 24 trip to Downey was satisfying for players, coaches and fans alike.
“We went 10-0 on the night,” Beam summarized. “It was an exiting night for the program.”