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Hilmar falls in section final
Hilmar football
Hilmar running back Broc Perry is brought down by a pack of Cougars during the Yellowjackets' 20-13 loss to Escalon in the Division-V Sac-Joaquin Section Championship in Stockton Saturday night. - photo by MARG JACKSON / The Journal

The Hilmar High varsity football team’s dreams of a ninth blue banner came to an end in Stockton Saturday night as the Yellowjackets fell to Escalon High in the Division-V Sac-Joaquin Section Championship by a score of 20-13.

The matchup marked both schools’ 16th trip to the section title game and the fifth time the Trans Valley League foes have met in the championship during Hilmar head coach Frank Marques’ tenure, which began in 2003. The last time was in 2019, when Escalon defeated Hilmar 41-27 for the Division-VI title. 

“We battled. The kids played hard the whole game and I’m just really proud of them,” Marques said. “This is the last game for the seniors and they’ve been a great group of kids, so resilient. My heart is just broken for them because we’ll have more games, but they don’t.”

Hilmar came into the championship game as the No. 6 seed against the No. 1 Cougars. Saturday was the first ‘Jackets loss since they were defeated by Escalon 24-14 on Oct. 1; senior Jason Pimentel took over at quarterback the following week against Hughson, leading Hilmar to a six-game winning streak which saw them outscore opponents 279-66. 

That potent scoring attack was stifled by the Cougars during the title game, however, who held Hilmar to 223 offensive yards on the night while collecting 326 of their own. Though the ‘Jackets hadn’t surrendered a turnover and collected 12 from opponents throughout the entirety of their first three playoff games this postseason, they lost the turnover battle to Escalon 3-2. 

“We made some mistakes early on in the first half...We can’t give teams like Escalon turnovers,” Marques said. “I’m happy for Escalon because they’re a good group of people, but the loss still hurts. It doesn’t matter who you lose to...We have to raise our game to compete with them.”

Things started out on a high note for Hilmar when Luis Vargas brought the opening kick return to Escalon’s 33-yard line, giving the ‘Jackets excellent field position in a game where every possession counted. Hilmar was unable to capitalize though, with a fourth down end zone attempt by Pimentel ending in a Cougar pick. 

That allowed Escalon to strike on their first possession of the game thanks to a 66-yard touchdown by running back Ryker Peters. The Cougars were able to jump out to a 14-0 lead by the second quarter after quarterback Donovan Rozevink hit wide receiver Owen Nash with a 45-yard touchdown pass. 

After Hilmar was forced to punt when they got the ball back, a strip sack by defensive end Nicholas Vitorino put the ball back in their hands — only for Cougar Tyler Medina to grab his second interception of the night. A three-and-out by Escalon allowed the ‘Jackets to get on the board with just 13 seconds left in the first half by way of a seven-yard touchdown from running back Broc Perry. 

After the half, a 43-yard field goal attempt by the Cougars fell short, setting up the ‘Jackets for a 12-play scoring drive capped by an 11-yard touchdown pass from Pimentel to wide receiver Derek Taylor. A high snap on the PAT attempt kept Hilmar from tying the game and they trailed 14-13 in the middle of the third quarter. 

Vargas made an impact again shortly after with a fumble recovery which gave the ball back to Hilmar, but it was all for naught as Escalon recovered a Perry fumble on the ensuing possession. 

Two possessions later, the Cougars dealt a devastating blow with a three-play drive ending in a three-yard touchdown by JP Lial. After a missed PAT, Escalon led 20-13 and forced Hilmar to turn the ball over on downs during their next two possessions to seal their 10th section title victory. 

Pimentel finished 7-23 with 77 passing yards, a passing touchdown and two interceptions, and also rushed for 69 yards on 18 carries. Taylor had five receptions for 52 yards and a touchdown, while Perry ran for 67 yards on 10 carries and also scored.

Escalon’s effort was led by sophomore QB Rozevink, who ended the night 8-12 with 155 passing yards and a touchdown. The junior back Peters collected 145 rushing yards on 24 carries with a touchdown, and junior receiver Nash had three receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown.

In a storied rivalry like this, Marques knows this isn’t the last time these two TVL teams will face off for a blue banner.

“I hope it’s fuel for our guys who are back next year. Escalon is really young, so they’re going to be good next year again,” Marques said. “We just have to get better, develop and be ready for the challenge of next season.”