OAKDALE – Donovan Rozevink, Escalon High’s three-year starting quarterback, plays with a strut in his step and confidence bursting from every pore.
He put up only pedestrian numbers during the first four games, however, and the Cougars wondered if the senior who guided the Cougars to a CIF state title in 2022 peaked before his final season.
No worries, Escalon fans. Rozevink just played the best game of his career.
All he did Friday night was pass for 294 yards and five touchdowns – three of them to receiver Sam Jimenez -- during the Cougars’ impressive 41-21 victory over Oakdale.
“Everyone from Escalon was born to do this,” said Rozevink in words that reflect about 30 years of the school's glossy football success. “We get into dogfights, we don’t care who it is. We’ll line up with everybody.”
Escalon (4-1), touring Northern California while Engel Field undergoes a major renovation, has traveled to Merced (beat Golden Valley), Clovis (beat Buchanan), Santa Rosa (beat Windsor) and Sam Ramon (lost to Cal High last week). Don’t blame the Cougars for treating their short trip down Highway 120 as a pseudo-home game.
That nasty schedule paid off in a big way at Oakdale. Escalon was the better team from the opening kick. The much-anticipated non-league game drew a standing-room-only crowd to the Corral, leaving many fans to line the fences.
They witnessed an on-point quarterback who completed 17 of 25 passes without an interception. He threw with greater velocity than he showed a year ago. Rozevink said he took better care of his arm before this season, and the results finally were seen.
Escalon coach Andrew Beam believed its challenging opponents, especially Cal High which feasted on five Escalon turnovers last week, bore a direct connection to what happened at Oakdale.
“We’ve played some giants, teams that were bigger, faster and stronger,” Beam said.
The Escalon coach was concerned about Rozevink’s early performance. Put it this way: he’s not concerned now.
“This was a 180 and a step in the right direction,” he said.
Rozevink, 6-foot-3, is not fast but stands tall in the pocket, can throw on the run and is hard to bring down. He also benefits from receivers who, against Oakdale, caught anything near them. Jimenez (9 catches, 143 yards, 3 TDs) and Jamin Miller (6 catches, 110 yards, TD) consistently beat the Mustangs’ secondary to the ball.
Oakdale (3-1) deferred the coin toss, and Escalon responded with an 81-yard march that consumed nearly half the opening quarter. Rozevink’s 9-yard slant was thrown behind Jimenez, but the junior adjusted for the score.
The Mustangs, a young team leaning on underclassmen and led by first-year coach Garrett Martin, answered for a tying touchdown. Sophomore Wes Burford (20 carries, 112 yards), already an emerging standout, scored the first of his two touchdowns. He also converted all three extra points.
But Escalon seemed to know all the test answers in advance. It drove 65 yards and took the lead to stay when Rozevink, stepping hard to his right, found Jimenez on the dead run in the end zone for the 11-yard TD.
Oakdale’s poor punt minutes later put the Cougars in business at midfield. On fourth down, a Rozevink-to-Jimenez screen pass netted 33 yards to the 2, where Joshua Graham punched it home.
The Mustangs closed to 21-14 when quarterback Tommy Chance saw Joseph Delte beyond the coverage and found him for the 42-yard touchdown. Oakdale trailed only 21-14 with 1:25 left in the half.
This is when Escalon separated from the home team. The Cougars executed a no-huddle offense that gave them one more chance. Rozevink, striding forward to beat the pass rush, tossed to Miller, who pivoted away from his defender to complete a clutch 33-yard strike with only 16 seconds to go before the break.
“They (Escalon) know how to win football games,” said Martin, who succeeds the very successful Trent Merzon. “If you give them momentum, it’s going to be hard to stop.”
Oakdale had one chance to stay in the game. It marched efficiently to the Escalon 3 to start the second half, but on fourth-and-goal, sophomore Chase Lopez was stopped at the line of scrimmage by Jimenez.
“I really didn’t like my fourth-down call,” Martin lamented. “Called a counter. Should have been power.”
Escalon’s subsequent 97-yard drive, capped when Jimenez beat tight coverage to catch Rozevink’s 5-yard lob, essentially settled the outcome.
Escalon added its final TD on Rozevink’s 17-yard bullet to junior tight end Ryan Lewis, a mainstay for the varsity since Game 1 as a freshman.
“Our kids have looked forward to this game,” Beam said. “Our coaches never got a chance to play against those great Oakdale teams.”
The game’s buildup, and the huge crowd it drew, indicated a demand for more Escalon-Oakdale. The teams are expected to meet again next year at Escalon, but nothing is planned after that. The Mustangs edged Escalon 38-35 during the abbreviated 2020 pandemic season, the first time the teams met since the late 1970s.
To the surprise of both coaches, a “Battle of 120” trophy was hoisted at midfield before the game. It apparently was the brainchild of the respective city mayors.
The trophy now belongs to Rozevink and the Cougars.
Escalon 41, Oakdale 21
Escalon 7-21-0-13– 41
Oakdale 7-7-0-7 – 21
E – Sam Jimenez 9 pass from Donovan Rozevink (Talan Reider kick)
O – Wes Burford 3 run (Burford kick)
E – Jimenez 11 pass from Rozevink (Reider kick)
E – Joshua Graham 2 run (Reider kick)
O – Joseph Delte 42 pass from Tommy Chance (Burford kick)
E – Jamin Miller 33 pass from Rozevink (Reider kick)
E – Jimenez 5 pass from Rozevink (Reider kick)
E – Ryan Lewis 17 pass from Rozevink (kick failed)
O – Burford 8 run (Burford kick)
Records – Escalon 4-1, Oakdale 3-1
JV – Escalon 14-0