A turning point. That’s what Escalon senior quarterback Lucciano Dutra called his team’s 38-7 defeat of Ripon on Friday night.
After two gut-wrenching Trans-Valley League losses earlier this season, the Cougars put those defeats behind them with a performance that not many were expecting.
Ripon came into the game unbeaten at 7-0, but were humbled by an Escalon team that learned from its previous defeats.
“We’ve grown, we haven’t let those losses affect us,” Escalon coach Andrew Beam.
The Cougars (6-2 overall, 2-2 TVL) lost to Hilmar by three points in overtime on Sept. 21, and fell to Modesto Christian a week later, 7-6.
After an easy win over Riverbank, the Cougars made a statement on Friday, defeating a talented Ripon team on homecoming night.
“We’ve gotten better,” Beam said. “We’re a young team with a lot of young starters and you had a feeling once this thing started to click that maybe we could do something.
“And hopefully a win like this can propel you into the postseason and get this thing rolling.”
Escalon features a junior-heavy roster and a sophomore, Luke Anderson, leads its rushing attack.
But the Cougars showed maturity against a Ripon team led by standout senior quarterback Ryan Daggett. The Indians were The Bee’s second-ranked medium-sized team going into the game.
“We were all expecting a dogfight,” said Dutra, who threw two touchdowns for Escalon. “We have 40 fighters. No one fights like us, no one has been through it like we have, I think. We’re just going to keep fighting no matter what, and we took the fight out of them.”
Ripon (7-1, 3-1 TVL) was plagued by penalties (12 for 100 yards) and turnovers (two interceptions, one fumble, one muffed punt).
Escalon jumped out to a quick lead, scoring on a 58-yard Dutra-to-Kaidence Trejo touchdown pass on its first possession. A 33-yard TD run by Jordan Gwartney gave the Cougars a 14-0 halftime lead.
Ripon scored on its opening possession of the second half and the Indians defense forced a quick Escalon three-and-out. It seemed the momentum was shifting.
But Ripon muffed the ensuing punt, Escalon recovered and the Cougars never looked back.
Escalon scored on the ensuing possession to go up 21-7, then forced another fumble to get the ball right back. When Colton Panero ran for a 4-yard touchdown, the Cougars were up 28-7.
Panero punctuated the victory with a 62-yard TD run with 4:32 left in the game.
“Our kids didn’t quite know how to handle this kind of adversity, because we haven’t face it,” Ripon coach Chris Musseman said. “So we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re going to be fine, but this was a good lesson for us tonight.”
The Indians can still claim the TVL title with wins in their last two games, at home against Hughson next Friday and at Modesto Christian on Oct. 26.
“The reality is if we win our last two games, we still win league,” Musseman said.
Escalon hosts Livingston next Friday, then concludes the regular season at Hughson.
And if the Cougars can play like they did on Friday, they have a good chance of finishing on a roll heading into the postseason.
“Defense has been the backbone of this team all year long, and once again they showed up,” Beam said. “And it was about time the offense showed up and came to the party, also.”
Escalon’s Kaden Christensen ran for 111 yards on 9 carries and Panero finished with 114 yards on 6 carries, including a 49-yarder. Anderson finished with 50 yards on 13 carries.
Ripon’s Daggett did most of his work running the ball, finishing with 115 yards on 16 carries. He passed for 108 yards, but 53 came on one play. He had only 13 yards passing in the first half.