HILMAR – The Escalon High Cougars stewed over a long winter and torrid summer with only one goal in mind -- beating Hilmar.
Thinking about it and doing it are two different things, of course, but Escalon no doubt released pent-up frustration Friday night. A capacity crowd at McSweeney Field witnessed the Cougars in Mach 4 revenge mode, and the result was a convincing 34-21 victory.
The win was extra sweet for Escalon (5-0, 1-0), given its two tough losses last season to its Trans-Valley League archrival. The Yellowjackets (5-1, 0-1) went on to win Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI and state DVI-AA titles while Escalon regrouped and plotted.
The response was as subtle as a punch to the chin – 321 rushing yards and stubborn control of the line of scrimmage. Escalon, which had lost five of its last six to Hilmar, never trailed.
“We got knocked down by them in the playoffs the last two years,” Escalon lineman David Camacho remembered. “This was the time to shine.”
Camacho and fellow senior offensive linemen PJ Flores, Mitchell Cole, Jacob Walden and Damien Tom simply pushed Hilmar backward. Escalon running backs recorded minus yardage only twice in 48 carries.
Luke Anderson pounded up the middle for 109 yards and two first-half touchdowns, while senior Colton Panero gashed the Yellowjackets on belly sweeps for 146 yards and a timely 58-yard touchdown rip.
“That Hilmar squad is fast. We felt we had to use our physicality,” Escalon coach Andrew Beam said. “In the second half, we wore on them a little bit.”
Hilmar, jittery early in the game, steadied itself after trailing 14-0. Cole Bailey’s interception and 35-yard return led to the first of three Seth Miguel touchdown passes, a 4-yarder to Justin Barros late in the half. The Yellowjackets’ 14-7 deficit was still manageable.
Escalon, which had deferred its option to the second half, took full advantage. Hilmar, intent on stopping Anderson inside, was out-flanked by Panero, who stepped 58 yards to the end zone less than two minutes into the second half. At game’s end, he received the team’s player-of-the-game belt.
“It was amazing to come here one last time and give it my all and leave no regrets,” Panero said.
Hilmar closed to 20-14 but Escalon pulled away with touchdowns on its next two possessions – quarterback Ty Harris’ sneak from the 1 and Kaden Christensen’s 4-yard race to the pylon with 6:48 left.
Harris overcame two interceptions and passed for 135 yards while Escalon dodged 12 penalties. The Cougars outgained Hilmar 456-221.
“We have a lot of season ahead of us. Last year, we had two losses and you saw how that turned out,” Hilmar coach Frank Marques told his team afterward. “We’re a good football team but we weren’t good tonight.”
Across the field, Escalon posed for photos and celebrated a long-awaited win.
“There wasn’t a lot of need from me for motivation,” Beam said. “They heard it for nine months.”
Escalon 6-8-6-14 – 34
Hilmar 0-7-7-7 – 21
E – Luke Anderson 5 run (kick failed)
E – Anderson 13 run (Kaidence Trejo pass from Ty Harris)
H –Justin Barros 4 pass from Seth Miguel (Miguel Padilla kick)
E – Colton Panero 58 run (kick failed)
H – Trent Crowley 9 pass from Miguel (Padilla kick)
E – Harris 1 run (Kaden Christensen pass from Harris)
E – Christensen 4 run (kick failed)
H – Aidan Azevedo 4 pass from Miguel (Padilla kick)
Records – Escalon 5-0, 1-0 TVL; Hilmar 5-1, 1-1 TVL
JV – Hilmar, 14-7