Welcome to the Escalon Cougar Traveling Road Show and all its last-second thrills, daring defense and nail-biting drama.
And it’s probably coming to a city near you!
Name another school in California that’s won two state titles over the last four years and hasn’t yet played a home game. The answer is Escalon (3-0), which is installing a new track and scoreboard at historic Engel Field and, yes, is replacing its infamous soggy turf with a firm and fast Bermuda hybid.
The Cougars will break in their renovated house on homecoming night Oct. 20 against Ripon. Until then, come one and come all to their long road trip, which continues Friday night in the East Bay against California High of San Ramon from the tough East Bay Athletic League.
“We can’t even begin to look ahead. If we do, we’ll get beat,” Escalon coach Andrew Beam warned this week. “If I start thinking playoffs, I’ll pull my hair out.”
The Cougars haven’t stumbled yet, but the road hasn’t exactly been smooth. Escalon opened with a 20-14 win over Golden Valley, though Golden Valley tightened matters with touchdowns in the final two minutes. The following week, the Cougars journeyed to the collegiate-like stadium at Buchanan of Clovis and delivered a thrilling 23-21 victory sealed by Talan Reider’s 32-yard field with 6 seconds left.
But that wasn’t pulsating enough. Buchanan used 9 laterals to return the game’s final play from its own 30 to the Escalon 20 yard line as time expired. Beam, watching in sheer terror, covered almost as much ground on the sideline.
Then there was last week’s shootout at Windsor, one that the Cougars survived 42-39. The teams exchanged eight touchdowns after halftime as Escalon climbed from an 11-point deficit. A 30-yard interception and pick-6 by Ryan Lewis and a post-pattern touchdown pass from Donovan Rozevink to Reider made for a happy bus ride home.
Through all the miles logged and excitement felt, one key fact emerges: Escalon, though it graduated stars such as Ryker Peters, Logan Anderson, Owen Nash and others, is still a beast. Bridging with last fall, the defending Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV, CIF Northern California and Division IV AA state champions have won 13 straight.
“We’re forging a new identity with new guys at new spots,” Beam said. “Our team doesn’t have last year’s stars but it’s relying on more of a combination of players. We’re a product of everything we’ve got.”
The Cougars are building around a better-than-good corps. Rozevink hasn’t yet thrown an interception in his third season at quarterback, and running backs Joshua Graham and Jamin Miller and receiver Sam Jimenez have scored three touchdowns apiece.
Lewis, a junior tight end/defensive end, has grown into his sturdy 6-foot-4 225-pound frame and already has started 35 varsity games. He anchors a veteran offensive line which includes Anthony Jones and Giovanni Chavez.
The schedule probably would be less ambitious if Escalon was at home for one or two of these games. Next week, Escalon prepares for a much shorter drive, only this one goes to the Corral for a much-anticipated game against Oakdale.
“Maybe we’re too ambitious this year,” Beam said. “I must say it has been fun to play these teams from the Central and North Cast sections.”
All this is a solid lead-up to the always nasty Trans-Valley League race. Mid-season losses to Hughson (the reigning CIF 4-AA state champion) and Hilmar humbled the Cougars in 2022 and became an important pivot to their season.
Beam believes the expectations surrounding his program were more intense last year. That said, Escalon braces for what promises to be another energized TVL campaign.
But as the coaches like to say, it’s one-game-at-a-time more than ever at Escalon. The road show continues. Accordingly, their first official “home” game Oct. 13 against Hilmar will be contested at Modesto Junior College Stadium.
“This year we had to suck it up for the new facilities,” Beam said. “In the end, we’ll reap all the rewards.”