Escalon coach Andrew Beam, alongside quarterback Donovan Rozevink, address his team after winning their fourth Sac-Joaquin Section title in a row (Samantha Schmidt).

Escalon magic: Rozevink's 2-point conversion caps dramatic rally and win over Patterson for D-IV title

Ron Agostini

STOCKTON – Donovan Rozevink, Escalon High’s rangy third-year quarterback, has built his spectacular career on his strong arm, not his flashing feet.

It was those feet, however, that carried the Cougars to their 12th Sac-Joaquin Section title Friday night.

Rozevink took the shotgun snap like he was a sprinter, racing into the end zone standing up for the dramatic 2-point conversion with 36.5 seconds left. Escalon’s dice roll turned into Cougar ecstasy—a 36-35 victory over Patterson in a pulsating Division IV final.

“I told Coach (Andrew) Beam, ‘I wanna throw the football,'" Rozevink said. “He said, ‘You’re running the football. No one is stopping you to run three yards. Trust yourself.’”

Rozevink, a strapping 6-foot-3, never stopped running. After he crossed the goal line, he circled back joyfully toward the Escalon bench as a capacity crowd at St. Mary’s High’s Sanguinetti Field stood in various phases of shock. And true to the core of this thrilling championship game, there was nearly one more shockwave.

Donovan Rozevink races back to his team after scoring the game winning 2-point conversion with less than 40 seconds left on the clock (Samantha Schmidt).

Patterson (11-2) had two shots to win from its own 46 yard line. The first was aborted by offsetting penalties. But on the second, Donjhae Hardin took a quick pass from Max Medina and refused to go down along the Tigers’ sideline.  He reached the Escalon 17 before he was finally tackled by senior Jadon Gutierrez as time expired.

Incredibly, top-seeded Escalon (12-1) did not lead until Rozevink’s inspired dash as the Cougars celebrated their fourth straight blue banner and their first in D-IV.

“I think it’s the Escalon magic,” said Beam, who’s authored some of those moments as both a former Escalon quarterback and now its successful coach. “I’ve seen some wild stuff and some wild bounces in big games. Its just a constant belief that you’re never out of the fight.”

Escalon, the 2022 CIF State 4-AA champion, will learn its Northern California Regionals opponent Sunday. Until then – allowing for a bit of homespun reflection – the Cougars might wonder how they survived their most recent showdown.

Patterson's Jeremiah Lugo accounted for all five of his team’s touchdowns, four rushing and one receiving, and totaled 152 rushing yards on 25 carries (Samantha Schmidt).

Patterson, flexing the same muscles they showed in their upset win last week over No. 2 seed Vista del Lago, greeted Escalon with football’s version of a haymaker to the chin. Before the Cougars took a snap on offense, they trailed 14-0. Before they recorded their third first down, they were down 28-7.

 Running back Jeremiah Lugo lay on the field, hands over his eyes, a warrior totally spent at game’s end. The Patterson workhorse accounted for all five of his team’s touchdowns, four rushing and one receiving, and totaled 152 rushing yards on 25 carries. His fast start signaled the Tigers’ early dominance.

Escalon's Sam Jimenez sprints 74 yards on a punt return to put the Cougars on the board in the second quarter (Samantha Schmidt).

Escalon, clinging to stay close during the first half, found traction with the fleet Sam Jimenez, whose 74-yard punt return put the Cougars on the scoreboard. Jimenez, a senior, answered Lugo with arguably the best game of his career – nine receptions for 128 yards and four touchdowns.

In one of the game’s pivotal plays, Jimenez’s catch-and-run over the middle on 3rd-and-18 covered 35 yards and pushed Escalon to within 28-14 late in the half.

Escalon's Sam Jimenez intercepts a pass meant for Patterson's Donjhae Hardin (Samantha Schmidt).

 The Cougars, further helped by a Jimenez interception, sustained their momentum in the third quarter. Rozevink (16 of 27, 205 yards, 3 TDs) bought enough time against the Patterson pass rush to deliver lethal completions. His scoring tosses of 24 yards to Jimenez and 26 yards to Talan Reider pulled the Cougars even 28-28.

Longtime football fans called this matchup “just another night in the Trans-Valley League.” Indeed, the Cougars and Tigers squared off many times when they were both in the TVL two decades ago.

Patterson, clearly ready for its jump next year into the Valley Oak League, displayed some moxie of its own in the final 12 minutes. The Tigers ran the ball 12 straight times, seven by Lugo. His 1-yard dive regained the lead for the Tigers 35-28.

 At this point, Beam turned to one of his assistant coaches and asked, “What’s our 2-point play?” But first things first.

Escalon embarked on a marathon 80-yard march in 19 pressure-packed plays. Twice, it converted on fourth down, the first by inches on Jimenez’s 8-yard catch at the Patterson 34. Twice, the Tigers appeared to get the upper hand by sacking Rozevink. But an interference penalty brought Escalon to the 13, where Rozevink found Jimenez for the touchdown that set up the win-or-lose conversion.

The Escalon Cougars celebrate their 12th Sac-Joaquin Section title overall and their fourth title in a row (Samantha Schmidt).

“They all got their money’s worth tonight. That’s what you want in a championship game,” said Patterson coach Rob Cozart, who led the Tigers to their first section final since 2007. “(The conversion) was the right call for them. We had everything set to go to that (right) side. It just didn’t work out for us.”

The difference was, as Cozart correctly put it, literally inches. It also was a series of clutch plays that kept Escalon in contention, all supplemented by a confident quarterback already responsible for three section titles and a state trophy.

“I have more trust in him (Rozevink) than maybe he does in himself sometimes,” Beam said. “Power running is what we do. I told him, ‘Go get it.’ He stuck his nose down and he hit that thing hard.”

Championship hard.

Escalon 36, Patterson 35

Patterson     14-14-0-7—35

Escalon           0-14-14-8—36

1st Quarter

P—Jeremiah Lugo 8 run (Jarred Carete kick)

P—Lugo 5 run (Carete kick)

2nd Quarter

E—Sam Jimenez 74 punt return (Talan Reider kick)

P—Lugo 5 pass from Max Medina (Carete kick)

P—Lugo 38 run (Carete kick)

E—Jimenez 35 pass from Donovan Rozevink (Reider kick)

3rd Quarter

E—Jimenez 24 pass from Rosevink (Reider kick)

E—Reider 26 pass from Rozevink (Reider kick)

4th Quarter

P—Lugo 1 run (Carete kick)

E—Jimenez 13 pass from Rozevink (Rozevink run)

Records—Patterson 11-2, Escalon 12-1