The first loss of the season was on the line for both the Hilmar and Escalon varsity football teams during Friday night’s Trans Valley League showdown, but ultimately it was the Cougars who kept their undefeated record intact after defeating the Yellowjackets, 34-21.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Hilmar head coach Frank Marques said. “It’s one of those things where we just made a lot of mistakes that were costly for us, but luckily it’s not the last game of the season.”
Hilmar’s offense was stifled by Escalon, which only allowed the ‘Jackets to grab 225 yards on the night. The Cougars put up 433 total offensive yards, led by big runs and a strong red zone presence that saw the team score every time they were within striking distance.
Escalon struck first blood late in the first quarter thanks to a five-yard run from their full back Luke Anderson, who went on to score once more in the first few minutes of the second quarter with another touchdown run — this time, a 13-yard rush to give the Cougars an early 14-0 lead.
Hilmar was able to answer back despite being forced to punt on their ensuing possession thanks to an interception from Cole Bailey, who put the ‘Jackets in the red zone and gave quarterback Seth Miguel the chance to connect with Justin Barros on a four-yard touchdown pass.
With Hilmar coming into the game with an undefeated 5-0 record and Escalon undefeated as well with four wins on the season, Marques said there may have been some jitters early in the game that were eventually shaken off as the team got comfortable late into the first half.
“We just wanted to calm everyone’s nerves…make less mistakes and play smarter football,” he said. “We did some of that, but it’s still just one of those things where you get yourself into a hole and it’s hard to get out.”
The second half saw more scoring from both sides, with Hilmar and Escalon each scoring on the first three drives of the game. The Cougars’ Colton Panero kicked off the half with a 58-yard touchdown run, and Hilmar answered with a 13-play scoring drive of their own capitalized by an eight-yard shovel pass from Miguel to Trent Crowley.
In response, Escalon marched down the field on a 10-play scoring drive of their own, scoring on a one-yard quarterback sneak seconds into the fourth quarter. They got the ball back again after a failed fake punt attempt by Hilmar, and Kaden Christensen’s four-yard touchdown run made it 34-14 with less than seven minutes left in the game.
Hilmar was never out of the game, Marques said, made evident by their refusal to back down despite being behind by 20 points. Miguel found receiver Aiden Azevedo for the first time in the game with four minutes left to play, connecting with him on a four-yard touchdown pass. An ensuing onside kick was unsuccessful, and the final score was 34-21.
Miguel completed 9 of 18 passes on the night and had three touchdowns, passing for a total of 115 yards and collecting 52 rushing yards.
“I think the boys kept fighting,” Marques said. “Our opponent never scared me, it’s just us. Usually when things go wrong, it’s because we didn’t play well.”
Hilmar is now 5-1 on the season and 1-1 in TVL play. They have a bye week, then will travel to Hughson to take on the Huskies at 7 p.m. Oct. 11.