AUBURN -- The Escalon High Cougars, coaches and players alike, swarmed the field in delirious joy.
About 20 yards away, the Placer High Hillmen lay on the soggy turf of LeFebvre Stadium as though they were KO'd by a 2-by-4.
Thomas Diniz's 23-yard field goal, despite a slight slip of his left plant foot, had just crept over the crossbar as time expired Friday night. Placer (11-1), the top-seeded team of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 playoffs, the supposedly unbeatable team of the tournament, was beaten.
Escalon (10-2), which wasn't expected to come home from Placer County with a win, added another chapter to its stirring football tradition.
Escalon 27, Placer 26.
The Cougars, the 2010 state champions, did it again when few gave them a chance.
"We told them at halftime that there's something special about this program, no doubt about it, when we play in big games," said Escalon coach Mark Loureiro who celebrated alongside his teen-aged heroes.
It is fitting that Escalon earned a rematch next week at Los Banos, which edged the Cougars 34-32 on Aug. 24. Reaching the semifinals was a longshot for this Escalon team and its 24 seniors, but here they are.
"Never count us out," receiver Alec VonAlvensleben said.
It can only be described as the Escalon Way. The Cougars trailed 26-17 with 1:57 left in the third quarter after Dominic Granieri booted his own 23-yard field goal.
From that point, Escalon's efficient and portable Wing-T offense owned the game. Incredibly, Placer was limited to only three plays on offense from scrimmage and a punt the rest of the night while Escalon twice marched inexorably down the field.
Escalon drove 65 yards in 18 plays, holding onto the ball for nearly nine minutes, and scored on Phillip Kimble's 8-yard fade to VonAlvensleben (six catches, 102 yards), who won a jump ball over Placer star Todd Valliere. That closed the gap to 26-24 with 5:02 left.
The Cougars held and quickly regained possession, this time beginning from their own 22. Nathan Chunn (25 carries, 138 yards, two touchdowns) already had done his job shortening the game with his straight-ahead assaults.
Now, with the rain having stopped, Escalon turned to Kimble and VonAlvensleben. They connected three times, none more impressive than VonAlvensleben's stunning leap over double coverage for a 38-yard catch at the Placer 9-yard line.
"It seemed like the ball was up in the air forever," VonAlvensleben said. "I was able to get it at its highest point."
Three plays and two timeouts later, Diniz kicked it straight and true.
Escalon deserved the victory. It outgained the Hillmen 384-204 and neutralized their 6-foot-4 305-pound defensive force Eddie Vanderdoes. Though Vanderdoes, a future USC Trojan, enjoyed his dominating moments, Escalon effectively worked its offense away from the star enough times to gain yards.
"He proved why he is USC-bound," said Escalon tackle Alan Gonzalez, who lined up against Vanderdoes most of the game. "We had to stay low, keep our head up and make sure we take a step back so he couldn't do his fast (swim) move."
Once again, Gonzalez and his teammates put on a display the Escalon Way.