High School Football

Running at will, small-school Escalon makes a large statement with win over Downey

Escalon junior running back Luke Anderson said the trio of himself and senior running backs Kaden Christensen and Colton Panero use the phrase “Who’s next?” when each have a big run, trying to see who can upstage the other.

In an age where some schools rely on a single running back, the Cougars have three and rotate them frequently — and successfully.

That was best illustrated on Friday night in Modesto, when the trio ran for nearly 450 yards as Escalon, the Bee’s No. 1 ranked small-school team, beat Downey, a CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division II team, 49-20, at Chuck Hughes Stadium on Friday on Homecoming Night.

“We embraced being underdogs and wanted to show what we can do,” said Christensen, whose team plays in Division V. “It was amazing and we put on a show.”

Indeed they did.

The win was not only significant for the Cougars but also for the Trans-Valley League, regarded by most as the best small-school conference in the state. Downey plays in the large-school Central California Athletic League with schools from Modesto and Turlock whose enrollments hover above 2,000. Escalon’s is just over 800.

“We wanted to represent the TVL and we did just that,” Christensen said.

Coach Andrew Beam said the win boosts the league’s strength.

“Monday was a different vibe at practice,” Beam said. “Today’s pre-period, they were focused and ready for this.”

How were the Cougars able to pull out such a decisive victory?

They ran and ran and ran some more, seemingly with ease.

Even with 10 Downey defenders in the box, the Escalon offensive line that included seniors David Camacho and Jacob Walden created big holes.

Anderson had a 55-yard run on the first play from scrimmage and also a 72-yard touchdown score in the first quarter while Christensen had an 80-yard touchdown run on the Cougars’ second drive.

Anderson had 198 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Christensen ran for 169 yards and four touchdowns, with the 6-foot-tall elusive back scoring on his last three carries. Panero had 79 yards and a touchdown.

“We have the best offensive line in the league,” Anderson said. “Tonight was a surreal feeling.”

While Escalon’s offense kept scoring, the Knights had penalties that negated momentum.

“They came to play tonight,” Knights coach Jeremy Plaa said. “We had a couple of drives where we stalled in the red zone.”

Senior wide receiver Lawrence Harris had two touchdown receptions for the Knights.

Escalon has a bye next week while Downey is at McClymonds.

After the win, Beam embraced an enthusiastic group and said while the win was noteworthy, there is still more to come.

“That’s four wins,” he said. “I want 11 (section and state titles) more.”

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Julian A. Lopez has been covering local sports for The Modesto Bee since August 2018. He graduated from Arizona State in 2016 with a BA in Journalism.