By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Winning Streak Snapped - Last Minute Field Goal Lifts Hilmar Past Escalon
When it was over, senior Josh Miguel wrapped his arms around an emotional junior Alec Von Alvensleben, consoling his younger teammate as the Hilmar Yellowjackets leapt in the air for joy nearby.

Escalon's final drive of the game fell short - senior quarterback Gino Franceschetti's last pass batted down by a trio of Hilmar players - and the Yellowjackets secured a 20-17 win over Escalon to take the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV crown.

The Friday night game at Lincoln High School of Stockton gave fans on both sides of the field their money's worth, as the teams went head to head and toe to toe in the finale.

"It was just two gladiators going at it," agreed Escalon head coach Mark Loureiro. "An inch here, an inch there, a play here, a play there, the outcome could've been different. These were two teams, evenly matched, there was great effort, great sportsmanship, it was everything a high school football championship game should be."

For Escalon, their 25-game winning streak - longest in the state - came to an end when Hilmar kicker Kurtis Bettencourt drilled a 43-yard field goal with precious few seconds left on the clock.

The Cougars got the ball back for one final drive but had just 19 seconds and no time outs to work with. Two pass completions, one to Von Alvensleben and one to senior Matt Roberson, got the Cougars down the field but Franceschetti's final pass, after scrambling to wait for someone to get open, didn't make it to the end zone and time expired with the Yellowjackets taking the hard-fought win. They are the first team to defeat Escalon since Patterson, which took a preseason contest from the Cougars in 2010.

"Hats off to their kids, hats off to our kids," Loureiro said. "That was a great game."

The Cougars did come in battered and bruised, having to run a gauntlet of physical teams in the playoffs, including Sonora on Nov. 18 and Central Catholic on Nov. 25 to reach the final.

"Hilmar had a couple of finesse teams; they faced Livingston and Linden and they were able to come in just a little fresher; maybe that was the edge," Loureiro said.

Escalon got the ball first on Friday night and was able to put points on the board to cap their first possession, on a 38-yard run by Josh Miguel. Franceschetti put the extra point through for an early 7-0 lead. Hilmar answered back in the second quarter on a 1-yard keeper from quarterback Andrew Olson. Bettencourt added the point after for a 7-7 tie.

The Cougars went up by three at the half, on a 42-yard field goal by Franceschetti that hit the cross bar and bounced through for a 10-7 advantage at the half.

But it was Hilmar's turn in the second half, as they started to move the ball efficiently and put the clamps on the Cougars defensively, not allowing much movement to their counterparts.

In the third quarter, Hilmar scored on a 9-yard run from Garrett Jericoff and the kick by Bettencourt to go up 14-10 and it was 17-10 after another field goal, this one from 40 yards out, with less than six minutes to go in the game. Hilmar, by that point, had all the momentum and its raucous crowd was smelling victory.

"There was a time in that game that you thought it was over," admitted Loureiro. "But then our kids tied it at 17-all."

Matt Roberson took in the short yardage touchdown to make it 17-16 with just over two minutes to go and Franceschetti kicked the extra point for the17-17 tie with 2:14 to play.

Loureiro said if there had been less than a minute to go, he probably would have risked the 2-point conversion, going for the win. But with two-plus minutes left, he was looking for a turnover, a quick three and out from Hilmar, something to give them the ball back and a chance for a game-winning drive.

Hilmar had other ideas; and even when starting quarterback Olson went out with a possible broken arm, his back up came in and they didn't miss a beat, as senior Jonathan O'Brien hit three of three pass attempts to move the team down the field and put Bettencourt in position to win it.

Loureiro tried to ice him with three consecutive time outs, but the sure-footed senior drilled the shot home.

And though the Cougars didn't have that magic in their final drive like in last year's Section final, Loureiro said the school and community can be proud of what they accomplished.

"Everybody comes after you," Loureiro said of being the defending champions. "It's tough trying to defend that."

The Cougars put together a 13-0 run this year before falling to Hilmar and had the state's longest winning streak at 25 games.

Miguel had 17 carries for 107 yards and a touchdown in the finale, with solid blocking games from Alex Gonzalez, Brent Montgomery and Joey Ratto. Von Alvensleben had a couple of big catches, key first downs to keep drives alive, said Loureiro.

Roberson, on a bad ankle, fought for his yards as well and had eight tackles defensively. Ian Fitzgerald and Gilberto Mancilla each had 10 tackles, with seven tackles and a sack from Tony Vincent, seven tackles from Travis James.

"These kids play hard for us, we never doubt the effort," Loureiro said. "They play bigger than their bodies."

It was even tougher on Friday, with players dealing with everything from cracked ribs to pulled muscles, gritting it out on the gridiron.

Escalon had 253 total yards on Friday, Hilmar had 288. The Cougars had 143 rushing yards to Hilmar's 146, with the Cougars passing for 110 and the Yellowjackets for 142. Ratto pulled down the lone interception of the game. Escalon fumbled once and lost it, the Cougars had six penalties for 65 yards, Hilmar had five for 50.

Loureiro said even though the loss puts an end to the hope that the Cougars could go back to Carson and defend their state championship, the season was wildly successful.

"I just want to thank the community and the school for their support through the year, that's what makes it a great place to coach and a great place to play," Loureiro said. "These people recognize what it takes and the kids here, a lot of teams couldn't stand that kind of pressure they were under this year, they handled it well."