Escalon is back.
That was the message delivered jubilantly by the Cougars, both young and old, following a 28-14 victory at Hilmar, the two-time defending Trans-Valley League champions.
After missing the postseason the last two years, Escalon (3-3, 1-0) has the pieces to make a run at the TVL crown: a stout run defense; a dynamic playmaker in sophomore Kaden Christensen; a stable of running backs, led by seniors Eliott Melo and Huge Alcala; and of course, a wily head coach.
Thanks to Friday’s road win, the Cougars now have the confidence, too.
Escalon stymied Hilmar’s Spread offense for nearly three quarters and scored the final 14 points to vault into the small-school poll for the first time all season.
If you ask coach Mark Loureiro, the recognition is long overdue.
Escalon was the victim of a rigorous non-conference schedule that included: large-school regional foes Enochs and Patterson; former small-school No. 1 Calaveras; Liberty of Madera, the 26th-ranked team in the Central Section; and Liberty Ranch.
The Cougars emerged from that gauntlet 2-3 and widely overlooked, but Loureiro never doubted his team’s potential once league rolled around.
His faith was rewarded Friday.
“I was waiting for you to figure that out in the paper and everything,” Loureiro said. “The three teams that beat us are all going to end up 9-1 – Calaveras, Patterson and Liberty. All three are excellent football teams, and iron sharpens iron.
“So our kids have been in tough, physical games all year with this. It really helped us tonight because when it got tough, we were able to fight back and answer.”
Nothing is guaranteed, especially in the TVL, the deepest of The Bee’s small-school leagues, but defeating the resident king is a telling feat.
Now, a closer look at The Bee’s small- and large-school power rankings:
Comprised of teams from the Central California Conference, Modesto Metro Conference, Valley Oak League and Western Athletic Conference.
1. (1) Oakdale (5-1, 3-0): Quarterback Marc Dickson threw two touchdown passes to Hunter Falconi as the run-first Mustangs beat the Buffaloes through the air. Dickson is 19-2 as a starter. Friday: vs. Sierra.
2. (2) Central Catholic (5-0, 3-0): Dauson Booker and D’Angelo Bellamy rushed for more than 100 yards, four different players scored, and the defense shutout East Union in a 55-7 victory. Friday: vs. Weston Ranch.
3. (4) Downey (7-0, 3-0): Bryce Peterson threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Jairol Harris-Red with less than 6 minutes left to help the Knights pull away from Beyer, 40-28. Downey is 7-0 for the first time since 1973, the year coach Jeremy Plaa was born. Friday: at Johansen.
4. (3) Manteca (4-2, 1-2): Once again, mistakes doomed the Buffaloes in a championship-caliber game. Manteca turned the ball over three times, all of which led to Oakdale touchdowns in a 36-15 loss. The Buffaloes also committed three turnovers in a loss to Central Catholic earlier in the season. Friday: vs. Kimball.
5. (5) Gregori (6-0, 2-0): Bobby Avina and the offense had their way with Johansen in a 54-6 victory. Avina was 9 of 12 for 262 yards and four touchdowns. His top target was junior Marcello Longstreth, who had 167 yards and two touchdowns. Friday: vs. Enochs at Downey.
6. (6) Turlock (5-2, 3-0): Junior quarterback Jonah Kosakeiwicz threw two touchdown passes to Jordan Porter and rushed for another as the Bulldogs won their 10th straight CCC game, a streak that dates back to 2015. Friday: Bye.
7. (7) Los Banos (6-0, 1-0): The Tigers continued their strong start with a 48-20 victory at Ceres in their WAC opener. Dual-threat quarterback Anthony Caballero had 418 yards of total offense and five touchdowns. Friday: vs. Central Valley.
8. (9) Pitman (3-3, 2-0): Head coach Tom Tyler won his 100th career game as the Pride blanked Atwater, 39-0. Tyler, who has coached at Turlock and Pitman, is the third coach in city history to reach 100 wins, joining a list that includes Joe Debely (117) and Les Ratzlaff (105), according to the Turlock Journal. Friday: at Buhach Colony.
9. (10) Patterson (5-1, 1-0): The Tigers appear to be clicking on all cylinders in time for WAC play. The 2015 champs won their fourth straight game, hammering Pacheco in their opener 55-19. Patterson led 41-6 at the half. Friday: vs. Ceres.
10. (8) East Union (4-2, 1-2): Andrew Sena returned an interception 85 yards for a score for the Lancers’ lone highlight in a 55-7 loss to Central Catholic. East Union’s only losses are to Oakdale and Central Catholic, The Bee’s top teams. Friday: at Lathrop.
Comprised of teams from the Central California Athletic Alliance, Mother Lode League, Southern League and Trans-Valley League.
1. (1) Orestimba (6-0, 3-0): The Warriors clinched their sixth Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berth in eight years with a 52-6 rout of Le Grand. The win was also the 50th of coach Aaron Souza’s young career. Friday: at Denair.
2. (2) Sonora (5-2, 3-0): Jack Camara rushed for 138 yards and two touchdowns and Jake Gookin threw a 35-yard scoring strike to Karson Clifton as the Wildcats won their fourth straight game. Friday: vs. Linden.
3. (3) Calaveras (6-1, 2-1): Kyle Byrd was 7 of 11 for 148 yards and two touchdowns as Calaveras rolled Bret Harte, 45-7. Ten players carried the ball at least once as Calaveras averaged nearly 8 yards per carry. Friday: Bye.
4. (nr) Escalon (3-3, 1-0): The Cougars vault into the top-five after knocking off two-time defending TVL champion Hilmar in their opener. The defense was superb, recording three sacks and an interception. Friday: vs. Mountain House.
5. (nr) Ripon (4-2, 1-0): The Indians overcame a 21-7 deficit on the road, defeating Mountain House 33-21 in their TVL opener. Ripon outscored the Mustangs 26-0 in the second half. Friday: vs. Modesto Christian.
Dropped out: Hilmar (3-3, 0-1); Summerville (5-1, 1-1).