It was a win. It was a very long road trip. It was a successful journey.
But it wasn’t Cougar football.
That’s what varsity coaches – and players – were quick to admit after a 43-29 victory over the host Damonte Ranch Mustangs on Friday night, Aug. 19. The trip to Reno, Nevada to take on the Mustangs saw many of the Cougar families turning it into a final summer weekend getaway. First and foremost, though, was the action on the field. Escalon was the more penalized of the two squads, and each team lost a player in the first quarter, ejected following an on-field incident.
When the dust finally settled, it was a two-touchdown margin of victory for Escalon, and though happy about the win, neither coaches nor players were pleased with the contest.
“We’ve got to be more physical, we’ve got to keep our composure; this week we did not play Escalon football … I don’t know what this was, but it wasn’t Escalon football,” admitted Logan Anderson, one of the two team captains this week.
Owen Nash, the other team captain for the opening contest, was the player ejected for the Cougars and he will also have to sit out this week’s game.
Senior Matthew Baptista, who had a key interception in the contest, agreed that the focus has to be on staying calm and collected as a team moving forward.
“I think we need to work on our defense a little more, just play Escalon football,” he said. “We lost our composure a little bit, it happens in big games like this.”
The overall experience, he added, traveling to a different state to suit up for football, is one he is glad he had.
“It’s a great experience, first time ever out of state, long bus ride but fun with all the boys and a good experience.”
Getting his first varsity reception during the game was sophomore Ryan Lewis, helping to set up a touchdown a couple of plays later.
“I was a little surprised, I never usually get the ball like that because I usually block but man, it’s nice to have that first catch,” he said.
He also said attitude will be a big factor as the varsity looks to regain its footing.
“We need to be more disciplined … we need to not engage, we just need to keep working,” Lewis said.
Leading the offense on Friday night was senior Ryker Peters, who – among other big plays – broke a 62-yard run to position the Cougars to extend their lead late in the game and virtually seal the victory.
“Our starting quarterback was out, our wide receiver was out; you know, we were just looking like we were on the breaking point and I knew somebody had to push,” Peters, who ended the game with 227 yards rushing and five touchdowns, said. “My body’s giving out right now … honestly, I’m just so appreciative of my line, for how tough, for how much they were able to hang through all that, I give all my success to them.”
As far as the volatility of the contest, the senior said it can be addressed.
“It’s not only just one or a couple of people on the team; we have to hold each other accountable as a whole,” Peters said of getting back to the structure and discipline that Escalon is known for. “We won’t go as far as we did last year if we don’t get this stuff fixed.”
Head coach Andrew Beam added that, with a preseason full of tough teams, the varsity squad needs to realize how important it is to correct the flaws from the first game.
“We need to find some guys that want to be leaders and lead the right way,” he pointed out. “There’s a lot of talent on this team but if we don’t change the attitude, we won’t go anywhere.”
Next up, Escalon welcomes in Buchanan of Clovis on Friday, Aug. 26 for a 7 pm kickoff.
“They have more cheerleaders than we have football players,” Beam said. “Buchanan is one of the top 25 teams in the state; we know they are one of the best teams to ever set foot on Engel Field and we look forward to the challenge.”
The coach also said the experience of traveling to Reno can ultimately be a good one, as it pointed out clearly what the Cougars need to do to succeed.
“I think we will see a major change in our attitude and behavior,” he said. “Buchanan is from a Division I powerhouse league … but we wouldn’t have scheduled them if we didn’t think we could compete.”