ESCALON – The anatomy of Escalon High’s state-championship drive begins with Ryker Peters’ words to quarterback Donovan Rozevink.
“Keep giving me the ball,” Peters asked.
Rozevink trotted to the sidelines between each play, where he would hear from coach Andrew Beam, “How is he doing?”
“He’s doing great,” Rozevink affirmed. “Keep giving him the ball.”
And so the Cougars gave Peters, their relentless 210-pound senior, the ball — over, and over, and over again. He carried 16 straight times, in fact, until he crossed the goal line from 6 yards out for the touchdown that all but clinched Escalon’s 28-7 victory over Northwood of Irvine on Saturday night for the CIF State Division 4-AA title.
But wait. It gets better. The drive, a nearly 10-minute marathon which Peters capped with 3:31 left for a 21-7 lead, mandated 100 yards due to an Escalon personal foul. Peters accounted for every yard – almost all of them between the tackles -- a large chunk of his 36-carry, 185-yard tour de force.
“I was tired. I was breaking down,” Peters admitted. “But when you have that motivation, it’s like, ‘One more. One more.’ When I scored, it was like bliss.”
Escalon getting physical, which is well within its comfort zone, was born of both style and necessity. Heavy rain, which incredibly stopped before kickoff, left the Engel Field turf – slow on its best night – a bog-like mess. Passing the heavy ball was little better than a wish for either side.
“We had a hard time running laterally. We had a hard time throwing the ball,” Escalon coach Andrew Beam said. “So we decided that we had to run the ball straight forward, without pulling (linemen), smash-mouth football.”
Peters, the battering-ram fullback who passed the 2,000-yard mark last week, became the perfect vehicle. The home-side bleachers, packed despite the dreadful conditions, erupted as Peters and the Cougars gained momentum.
Then he scored, followed minutes later by a 43-yard pick-6 by fellow senior Owen Nash. The Cougars (13-3), off-rhythm after back-to-back Trans Valley League losses not too long ago, slid through the mud in joy after their 10th- straight victory, their second state plaque in three years and their third on-the-field state title.
“It was exactly how you would picture a 1990 Escalon football to do it,” Beam said in a bow to predecessor Mark Loureiro. “It (running the ball) is our identity. It’s been our identity forever. We settled in. That was a statement drive to go out and win a state title.”
Northwood (14-2), riding a 12-game winning streak into the final, did not submit easily. The game was tied 7-7 at halftime, and the Timberwolves liked their position.
“I was real proud of the kids at halftime. We were battling our butts off,” said veteran Northwood coach JC Clarke, who posed for photos with his 19 seniors. “They (Escalon) got after us.”
Escalon, which won the coin toss and deferred, parlayed that decision into the go-ahead touchdown to start the second half. Logan Anderson, one of the Cougars’ accomplished captains along with Peters and Nash, popped a two-tight-end counter – one of Escalon’s Wing-T tools – for a 49-yard sprint up the middle for the score.
The play was a harbinger. Escalon dominated the second half. It outgained Northwood 196-48 after halftime and limited the visitors to only three first downs over the final two quarters.
That said, Northwood reached the Escalon 38-yard line as it marched toward a potential tying touchdown during the third quarter. The Cougars forced a punt, however, followed by No. 1 (Peters) to the left, and Peters to the right. Rinse and repeat.
“That play (Anderson’s TD) was the only misdirection play that worked,” Beam said. “There was no fooling ‘em. They were very well-coached. They came here and played in crappy conditions and made it a fun ball game.”
Escalon and Northwood traded turnover-induced short-field drives for touchdowns during the first half.
Timberwolves quarterback Eugene Miyata, scrambling on the game-opening series, fumbled while being chased by Ryan Lewis and Jamin Miller recovered at the Northwood 31. Five plays later from the 8, Rozevink dropped the snap but recovered quickly and tossed to Lewis in the back of the end zone.
“He threw it high where I could get it,” said Lewis, a 210-pound sophomore who completed his second varsity season. ”The ball was wet. I was afraid I was going to drop it.”
Northwood responded in the second quarter after Peters fumbled at the Escalon 21. From the 8, Miyata faked a pitch to his left to Adam Harper and skipped to his right for the tying TD.
The score, however, revealed a subplot. Escalon keyed hard on Harper, the Timberwolves’ do-it-all 2,000-yard-gaining running back and safety. The Cougars stacked their defense to contain him, and they succeeded. Harper gained only 56 yards on 17 attempts and bobbled away a possession at the Escalon 23 late in the half.
“They (Escalon) put eight in the box. They did what they should have done,” Clarke said. “I have no complaints. It was a good team we were playing.”
The title game marked the end of an era at Engel. The notorious turf will be replaced, probably by a fast and firm Bermuda hybrid, and so will the scoreboard and the goalposts. An all-weather track, nothing more than a moat Saturday night, also will be installed.
“I’m going to miss this old slush,” Peters exclaimed.
Perhaps that old slush also will miss Peters along with the 2022 Cougars.