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Cougars spoil ‘Jackets’ three-peat
Second half effort lifts Escalon over Hilmar
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Hilmar wide receiver Aiden Azevedo catches a 36-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Seth Miguel as time expires in the first half of the Division-VI Sac-Joaquin Section Championship game against Escalon (Photo by Anna Silveira).

Another chapter in the storied rivalry between the Hilmar High and Escalon High varsity football teams came to a close Saturday afternoon, with the Yellowjackets’ attempt to capture their third straight blue banner during the cold, rainy Division-VI Sac-Joaquin Section Championship game falling short as they lost to the Cougars 41-27.

“I’m really proud of the kids. They did what they had to do, we just couldn’t stop them defensively,” Hilmar head coach Frank Marques said. “We made some mistakes we shouldn’t have made. It just wasn’t our day today.”

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Hilmar’s Justin Barros scores his second touchdown of the day (Photo by Anna Silveira).

It was the second time Hilmar (11-2 overall; 5-1 TVL) met Escalon (12-1 overall; 5-1 TVL) on the field this year; the Cougars defeated the ‘Jackets on Sept. 27, too, 34-21 during Trans Valley League play. After losing to Hilmar in both the 2017 and 2018 Section semifinal, Escalon came into Saturday’s title game at Lincoln High School with a vengeance. It was the fourth time the two schools have met in the final — the last time was in 2011, when Hilmar won 20-17 in the Division IV Tournament.

“It’s tough to beat a team twice and to come out here and do it at Lincoln with the weather — it’s crazy out here and it was pretty amazing to accomplish,” Escalon running back Kaden Christensen said.

Things looked good for Hilmar right away as they scored on the opening kickoff, thanks to a trick flip from Joseph Olsson after he received the kick to Justin Barros, who returned it 88 yards and put the ‘Jackets up 6-0 after a missed point after attempt.

Escalon answered back immediately and took a 7-6 lead, courtesy of seven-play drive down the field capped by an 18-yard touchdown from Christensen.

Hilmar quarterback Seth Miguel didn’t let the Cougars hold a lead for long, first completing a 53-yard touchdown pass to Olsson that put the ‘Jackets up 13-7, then finding Barros with a 45-yard touchdown pass to give the team a 13-point lead halfway through the first quarter.

Miguel, a junior, ended the game with 10 carries for 60 rushing yards and completed 10 of 19 passes for 188 yards with three touchdowns. He also gave up two interceptions on the day.

“He’s a different level kid. He’s got a great career ahead of him,” Marques said of his young quarterback. “It’s going to be fun watching him develop.”

Down 20-7, Escalon finished out the final minute of the first quarter by scoring on a five-yard touchdown by running back Luke Anderson, and then took the lead late in the second quarter thanks to Anderson again — this time, a one-yard leap into the endzone on fourth down.

A 36-yard touchdown pass from Miguel to wide receiver Aiden Azevedo on a wild scramble as time expired in the first half gave the team some breathing room, and they headed to the locker room up 27-21. It was the last time the ‘Jackets would score.

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Hilmar’s John Almao goes for the tackle in the Yellowjackets’ Section title game against Escalon on Saturday (Photo by Anna Silveira).

Escalon went on to score 20 unanswered points in the second half, and by the end of the game had 394 total offensive yards compared to Hilmar’s 294. A fumble and interception on two separate third and fourth quarter drives by Hilmar were key mistakes that helped get the ball back into Escalon’s hands, which was enough for their star back to make sure his impact was felt late in the game.

Christensen ended the game with 23 carries for 164 yards and three touchdowns in addition to an interception and a blocked PAT, good enough to earn the running back the title of “The Blitz” Player of the Game.

“We just said our line was better than theirs and we decided we were going to run the ball. That’s what Escalon’s been known for the last 30, 40, 50 years,” Christensen said. “All we’ve done is run the ball, and we went back to our roots and got it done.”

“Our only losses were to this same team twice, so (Escalon) definitely deserves the accolades,” Marques said. “It just sucks for us. It would’ve been fun to keep playing, but what a hell of a ride.”

Escalon’s win on Saturday was the first section championship for the team since 2010 and the first under head coach Andrew Beam.