Mark Loureiro and Escalon High couldn’t have scripted a better start.
Or picked a better time to play its best football.
Playing with a sense of urgency, the Cougars took the fight to fourth-ranked Modesto Christian and kept their postseason and Trans-Valley League title hopes alive with a thorough 37-14 victory.
Senior Elliot Mello scored three touchdowns in an eye-blink in the first quarter, including two in a span of 23 seconds, and the defense silenced the league’s highest-scoring offense on another wild night in the TVL.
“We got manhandled. It was an old-school butt-whooping,” Modesto Christian coach Mike Parsons said. “It was Escalon football, Mark Loureiro-style. You have to come; you have to bring it.”
Mello finished with 128 yards on 18 carries, and tied his season-high with four touchdowns. On the biggest night of the season, Escalon’s undersized fullback stood tall.
“I’m going to tell you, he’s a 150 pounds but he plays like he’s 190 out here,” Loureiro said.
At 5-4, Escalon’s chances of ending a two-year playoff drought in Loureiro’s 29th and final season have brightened. The Cougars (3-1) close the regular season at home against Hughson (4-5, 1-3), which was blown out by Ripon (6-3, 3-1).
It won’t be a must-win situation, though, thanks in large part to Friday’s electric start.
“There was some desperation,” Mello said, “but we couldn’t let that fester.”
It was a night designed for Cougar success.
With its plush, wet surface, Engel Field catered to Escalon’s plodding style and doomed Modesto Christian, which had its three-game winning streak snapped.
It got away from the Crusaders early, too.
Return man Kioa Long slipped at the 2-yard line, forcing Modesto Christian to play out of its own end zone. After a punt positioned Escalon at the MC 44-yard line, the Wing-T, as dependable as its aching architect, went to work.
Kaden Christensen ripped off a 23-yard sweep, and Mello punctuated the drive with a 10-yard charge, bowling over the safety at the goal line.
Moments later, Mello made it 14-0, jumping a pass by Hayden Sauser at the 24 and racing up the visiting sideline.
He wasn’t done.
Four minutes later, Mello burst through line of scrimmage and away from the defense for a 65-yard touchdown. The 21-0 lead was Escalon’s first since a 42-6 victory over Liberty Ranch on Sept. 15.
“The offensive line was pushing,” Mello said.
The unpredictable nature of the TVL continues. For three weeks, MC’s Shotgun Wing-T had been virtually unstoppable. The Crusaders topped 40 points in victories over Ripon and Hilmar, but was held scoreless for the first 23 minutes of Friday’s showdown at Engel Field.
Modesto Christian (4-5, 3-1) must win next week’s game against Mountain House (4-5, 0-4) to clinch a postseason berth.
“We got to go handle our business,” Parsons said. “Hopefully our guys don’t pout too long. I told the kids, we were missing that sense of urgency. Escalon has a sense of urgency. They’re playing for Mark. They’re playing for playoffs. They’re playing for a piece of the title. You could tell. For some reason, we missed that. We were priobably drinking our Kool-Aid after going 3-0.”
Sauser was sacked three times, completed just 14 of his 26 throws with an interception, and fumbled a snap inside his own 10 as the Cougars’ smaller front dominated the line of scrimmage.
How’s this for a telling statistic: Of the Crusaders’ 25 run plays, nine resulted in a loss.
“Teams that win at the end of the year play defense,” Loureiro said. “It doesn’t matter what offenseyou have or what you do. You have to play defense. We flew around the ball tonight; we had a lot of gold helmets around the ball. We picked up two or three turnovers and converted one for a score. I’m proud of the kids on the defense, because I’ve been beating up on them all year.”
Modesto Christian didn’t show signs of life until the final drive of the first half.
The Crusaders drove the length of the field, scoring on Rory Hanson’s 13-yard reception with 26 seconds left. Escalon thought they had Modesto Christian stopped, too, but a delayed pass interference call on fourth-and-10 kept the Crusaders’ offense on the field.
Sauser lofted a pass to Hanson in the end zone on the next play. Hanson reeled in the pass while blanketed by two defenders.
Xavier Carlton also had a 12-yard TD reception with 6:58 left in the game.
Max Nicholas rounded out the Cougars’ scoring with a juggling 9-yard reception.
“This year the TVL is balanced,” Loureiro said. “You can throw four or five teams into a hat and pull their names out, and you’re seeing it.”