The Escalon Outlaws had one more game to win to get into the Mother Lode Valley Football League Championship Game, facing off with a new opponent in the semifinals.
The Outlaws did not have a game against the Sonora Jr. Cats this year. The Jr. Cats were the No. 2 seed in the playoff bracket having the second-best record in the league. The Outlaws were the No. 3 seed. Sonora looked to build on their win from last week 35-26 over the Waterford Sabrecats. Escalon narrowly escaped last week, beating the Ripon Chiefs 20-19 in overtime to advance to the semifinals.
Escalon would win the coin toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff. The Outlaws started their first possession on their own 46-yard line after a 20-yard return by Logan Anderson. The Outlaws drove the ball down the field in the way they know best, grinding the ball on the ground with their running attack. A steady dose of Matthew Baptista, Ryker Peters and Logan Anderson brought Escalon to the doorstep of the Jr. Cats’ end zone where Baptista cashed in from 2-yards out through the right side of the offensive line. Jacob Martin would convert the point after touchdown kick giving Escalon a 7-0 lead. Sonora would answer on their first possession with a 57-yard drive of their own. Thirty-one of those yards would be from a short pass with the receiver finding space around and through the defensive secondary. The point after kick was good tying the game 7-7.
After a possession by both teams the 10-minute first quarter evaporated. The Outlaws took the ball on their own 42-yard line to begin their second possession. The drive was about to stall until Donovan Rozevink found an open Owen Nash behind the defensive secondary for a 28-yard gain. Baptista would find the end zone again, this time from 13-yards out. Martin would convert another point after kick giving the Outlaws the lead 14-7.
Sonora would fumble during their next possession. The mishandled pitch would be recovered by CJ Miller. The Outlaws could do little to move the ball this time turning the ball over on downs. Then Sonora found traction exposing space in the defense. Tate Christensen would make a touchdown-saving tackle chasing down the Jr. Cats ball carrier on a broken field run inside the Escalon 20-yard line. This stop would turn out to be just the opportunity the defense would need. Nash would leap to take a pass out of the air intended for what appeared to be an open Sonora receiver. Escalon would take the ball with just under four minutes on the second quarter clock on their own 6-yard line. Two carries by Baptista took the ball to nearly midfield. On third down and long yardage Rozevink found an open Anderson in the middle of the defensive secondary and delivered a dart for a 24-yard gain putting the Outlaws inside the Jr. Cats’ 20-yard line. The 94-yard drive would be capped by a 4-yard plunge by Rozevink. The point after kick by Martin would split the uprights extending the Outlaws’ lead to 21-7 just before halftime.
Sonora opened the second half with the football, but after driving into Escalon territory the momentum stalled and the Jr. Cats turned the ball over on downs. Escalon took this opportunity to drive 78-yards overcoming multiple penalties. Baptista would break through the right side of the line again dashing 55 yards, outsprinting the Sonora defense along the way. The point after kick would be blocked, but the Escalon lead grew nonetheless to 27-7. Sonora would add a tally to the scoreboard of their own with their next possession. Along with the point after kick the gap would close to 27-14.
Escalon would catch a break on an attempted on-side kick taking the ball on the Sonora 49-yard line. The Outlaws would find the end zone again when Rozevink and Nash would exploit a defensive mismatch on a 28-yard pass. The point after kick would be blocked, but the Escalon lead would grow again 33-14. Sonora would return the ensuing kickoff 70-yards for a touchdown. The point after kick would again split the uprights to close the scoring gap to 33-21.
The Outlaws would take the victory, with 33-21 being the final score. The game was not as close as the scoreboard read. The Outlaws dominated the game from the opening kickoff to the final possession.
Escalon will be in the Mother Lode Valley Football League Championship Game next week. The game will be played on a neutral site, Calaveras High School. The Outlaws will get a chance to avenge an earlier loss of the season, to the Argonaut Jr. Mustangs. In their first meeting the Jr. Mustangs won 44-20 during week two of the season.
The championship game will be played at 6 p.m. Saturday.