The Hilmar High football team will play for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI championship next week, getting to the title game on the shoulders of its defense.
The Yellowjackets stifled Escalon’s powerful running attack, and used a second-half offensive surge to beat the Cougars 28-18 in a semifinal showdown between longtime Trans-Valley League rivals on Friday night in Hilmar.
No. 2 seed Hilmar (10-2) will play fourth-seeded Ripon Christian (12-0) for the title after the Knights stunned top-seeded Modesto Christian 25-13 on Friday night. The game is set for 7 p.m. Friday at Turlock High School
Hilmar got off to a slow start offensively against Escalon, but trailed only 7-0 halftime thanks to a swarming defense.
The Yellowjackets then scored 28 points in the second half to close out the Cougars.
“Our defense kept us in the game long enough for us to rebound,” Hilmar coach Frank Marques said. “One thing about the long delay (between games due to poor air quality), was our defense was able to rep over and over.
“Our defense really responded; they were up for the task tonight.”
Hilmar limited Escalon to 53 yards rushing and forced the Cougars to pass the ball 33 times.
Escalon coach Andrew Beam said he would’ve been shocked if his team, going into the game, would have passed more than 15 times. But the plan changed when his usually strong ground attack was shut down.
Sophomore quarterback Ty Harris was 12 for 33 for 188 yards and a touchdown for Escalon. The Cougars also threw in a reverse pass that resulted in an interception.
Beam said the Cougars threw the ball so many times out of “necessity.”
“We could not get things going running the ball,” Beam said. “You have to give credit to Hilmar. They made us do something different, got us out of our comfort zone and it took us a long time to adjust.”
Escalon opened the scoring on Luke Anderson’s 1-yard touchdown run, which came after Escalon recovered a bad punt snap by Hilmar.
The two teams, despite moving the ball, couldn’t put any more points on the board in the first half.
Hilmar received the opening kickoff of the second half, and that’s when Hilmar’s Issac Sharp changed the game.
He took a reverse handoff and ran 87 yards for a touchdown that tied the game.
“As soon as I got to the outside I saw a hole, and I was super surprised and I ran through it,” Sharp said. “There was great blocking on it, it was a great job by everyone.”
After a quick Escalon drive ended in a punt, the Yellowjackets went ahead for good minutes later on a 45-yard TD pass from Treven Crowley to Bryan Millan.
Two TD runs by Justin Rentfro (17 and 32 yards) in the fourth quarter put the game out of reach.
Rentro finished with 116 yards on 13 carries, and also caught two passes for 50 yards.
Sharp finished with 92 yards on 11 carries.
Anderson led Escalon with 48 rushing yards on 16 carries.