The Hilmar High football team was able to make a second half comeback on Friday to earn a 28-18 win over league rivals Escalon High and, more importantly, advance to their second straight Division-VI Sac-Joaquin Section Championship game.
“It is special, especially when you play a team like Escalon which is class act. The kids had a heckuva second half,” said Hilmar head coach Frank Marques. “The first half we couldn’t play worse, but they were able to overcome it. I think we were prepared, with a lot of energy."
“Not one person that shined tonight, it was everyone. We came together after the half and picked it up… a total team effort,” said Hilmar’s Justin Rentfro.
Rentfro finished the game with 14 carries for a team-high 144 yards and two touchdowns.
“Escalon is a hard-running team, hard to stop, but my guys were taking the blocks, can’t do it without them,” said Rentfro.
Hilmar tallied 384 yards to Escalon’s 231 for the game.
The ‘Jackets improve to 10-2 heading into their second straight section title game against Ripon Christian, which is currently undefeated at 12-0.
“It is insane, this is one of the best feelings I have ever had,” said Rentfro. “Two years in a row, can’t ask for a better senior season so far. We are going to celebrate tonight and worry about RC tomorrow morning. We have to watch film, see what they got and go off that. If we go back to back, no better season. We fixed our mistakes from the first half, but the defense was key tonight.”
Defense was key, but the offense stepped it up in the second half.
Escalon came out and was forced to punt, but then capitalized on Hilmar’s mishandled snap and scored from one-yard out just two plays later as sophomore Luke Anderson rushed it in to make it 7-0 with 6:23 left in the opening quarter.
Hilmar was forced to punt on their next drive, then Escalon missed their first of two field goal attempts.
Four punts followed after a defensive effort on a wet and cold field.
Two turnover-on-downs happened soon after by both sides, before Hilmar finally tried to put some points on in the first half. A 42-yard field goal gave Escalon the 7-0 lead heading into halftime.
“First half was not going our way I will be honest,” said Hilmar’s Nick Aguilera. “But the second half we went to the chalk board and we knew what to do. Coach Almeda is a guru, he knows how to work with the offensive line, and coach Marques, I told them to get it together and do what we do best, running the ball. We went into the half and made adjustments, went on the board and coach Marques has a great gameplan and we have Isaac Sharp and Justin Rentfro, just two incredible backs.”
Isaac Sharp started the Hilmar rally that would see them score 28 second half points, and it started in the first 13 seconds of the third quarter.
Bryan Millan caught the kickoff, but then handed it off to Sharp who bolted his way down the opposite end of the field for a 90-yard return that tied the game at 7-7.
Hilmar’s defense, which was the staple for most of the night, forced Escalon to punt on their ensuing drive then on a two-play scoring drive Treven Crowley found Millan for a 45-yard score after the defender deflected the ball, but the score read 14-7.
Escalon hit a 36-yard field goal to make it 14-10 with 3:51 left in the third.
Hilmar’s Rentfro scored from 17-yards on a three-play drive that extended their lead to 21-10 with 4:59 left in the game.
Escalon followed up with their last scoring drive that saw them run nine plays ending with a 14-yard touchdown reception to make it 21-18 with 3:35 left in the game.
Rentfro, who was the biggest standout of the game, scored once again after he plowed through the interior line, ramming through the entire line on both sides from 32 yards out to end it 28-18.
Nick Aguilera recovered a Frank Pereira forced fumble in the final 1:05 to seal the deal.
“I saw the quarterback rolling out and Frank hit him and soon as the ball popped out, I hauled and dove and jumped on it,” said Aguilera. “I expected a dog fight every play and smash mouth football.”
Sharp finished the game with 11 carries for 97 yards. Crowley completed 8 of 14 for 128 yards.
“It is crazy being in there as a junior; not going to lie I was nervous but we came out with the win. This year we don’t want it to end with a loss so we are going balls to the wall all out,” Aguilera added.
No. 2 Hilmar will face No. 4 Ripon Christian for the D-VI SJS Championship at a time and site yet to be determined. Check cifsjs.org for the latest bracket updates.
“My expectations for the final, it’s to play the best game we can, and great to be back,” Marques added.