Escalon Wins No. 1, No. 2 Showdown

With scoreboard in background, Escalon QB Ty Harris and RB Kaden Christensen left Hilmar on Friday with team’s No. 1 state small school ranking intact. Photo: Mark Tennis.

There were some moments when Hilmar was threatening to tie or take the lead, but generally it was an impressive 34-21 triumph for the state’s top-ranked small school over a league foe that was considered No. 2 entering the night. It could still wind up easier for Hilmar to go far in the CIF state bowl games, however, due to CIF Sac-Joaquin Section playoff placements.

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You know your team is in trouble when it’s a possible first-place matchup in the Trans-Valley League and you start checking out possible CIF Sac-Joaquin Section playoff opponents in Division 6 as opposed to Division 5.

In the SJS, the Trans-Valley League champion moves up to the Division 5 bracket while some but not all of the other teams in the league qualify in Division 6. Hilmar is one of those teams and as the Yellowjackets were trailing Escalon 34-14 on Friday night at McSweeney Field in Hilmar (near Turlock in the Central Valley) in a showdown of top state small school squads, the speculation about Hilmar in D6 began on the home team’s sidelines.

The visiting Cougars went on to post a 34-21 triumph and although they have more potentially tough league games to play they are looking good as the league favorite heading into the SJS playoffs. Escalon, which has won a D3 state title in the previous state playoff format in 2010 over much-larger school Madison of San Diego, improved to 5-0 on the season. Hilmar, last year’s CIF D6AA state champion, fell to 4-1.

As last week’s first medium and small school state rankings were being compiled and schools were placed large, medium or small based on their various CIF section playoff divisions (with enrollments also being considered at roughly 1,000 and below for small), it didn’t take long to see that both Escalon and Hilmar would be quite high as small schools. And since they were playing each other, the choice was made to make it a No. 1 vs. No. 2. The computer rankings for all of the schools placed as “small” also would have had Escalon and Hilmar in the top positions.

Players from Hilmar join together for a quiet moment before their game on Friday against Escalon was about to get underway. Photo: Mark Tennis.

“I thought we came out emotional to start the game and that got the best of us early,” said Escalon head coach Andrew Beam, who took for the current winningest coach in section history, Mark Loureiro, two seasons ago. “I’m proud of how our senior captains played and got us ready for the second half. I thought we answered the challenge.”

The Cougars didn’t get going until their third series after they survived a missed field goal by Hilmar and an interception by the Hilmar defense. Escalon then got its own turnover (a fumble recovery by Bryan Hale) and drove for a 54-yard touchdown. Senior Luke Anderson carried five yards for the score.

Early in the second quarter, Escalon grabbed a 14-0 lead after a 13-yard touchdown run by Anderson, who ended with 110 yards rushing on 15 carries. The Cougars were threatening again when the Yellowjackets turned the tide on an interception by Phillip Bailey, who returned the ball 35 yards to the Escalon 10-yard line. Two plays later, Seth Miguel hit Justin Barros for a 4-yard TD pass that narrowed the deficit fo 14-7.

In the third quarter, both teams scored the first time they had the ball. Colton Panero broke loose for a 58-yard TD run for Escalon while Hilmar’s touchdown came on a 9-yard scamper by Trent Crowley.

The difference in the game is that at that point Escalon’s offense kept up its success while Hilmar couldn’t keep up. The Cougars took a 28-14 lead on a one-yard sneak by quarterback Ty Harris and expanded it to 34-14 with 6:48 left on a four-yard run by Kaden Christensen.

Hilmar wasn’t done. A 30-yard pass from Miguel to Crowley put the ball at the 4-yard line and then Miguel had a 4-yard TD pass to Aidan Azevedo that sliced the lead down to 34-21 with 4:12 left. With no time outs, the Yellowjackets had to go for an onside kick. Escalon recovered and with the help of a poorly-timed penalty was able to run out the clock.

Panero only carried nine times for the Cougars, primarily on sweeps to the edge, but finished with a game-best 145 yards.

As he and the rest of the players celebrated on the sidelines, it was as much a sense of relief than of winning in a showdown game. Hilmar had won in two close games last season against Escalon and the two teams usually fight it out down to the wire.

Hilmar head coach Frank Marques, of course, reminded his team that it lost two games last year in the regular season, but that it came back to win that state title.

And based on the way the section playoffs are done, these two squads both could be in a hunt to win state titles in different divisions. This game may have just decided which team will have to play in a higher division.

“We’ve got Ripon and Hughson and plenty of other rivalry games coming up,” Beam said. “In our league, on any given night, we could get beat.”

Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of He can be reached at Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle:

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