It was a wild, chaotic, dramatic, cold and unforgettable game.
Friday night’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI semifinal matchup lived up to the hype when Hilmar High traveled to Escalon High to square off against its rival for the second time this same season — only this time a trip to the Section final was on the line.
It was a dramatic game that saw multiple momentum swings and 79 combined points scored, but in the end the resilience of No. 6 Hilmar was enough to execute its second straight stunner, topping No. 2 Escalon 41-38 to secure the ‘Jackets second trip to the Division VI title game in three years.
“We knew we were going to get this one from the get go,” Hilmar senior Tyler Amarante said. “Coach Marques was letting us know we were going to film the next day, everybody was doing good. Defense stepped it up big time, everybody had everyone’s back and Marcus Mouro is the gel to this defense that is all I have to say about that.”
“It's special to be here. I believed in these kids. They were focused all week. They believed,” Hilmar head coach Frank Marques said. “I love these guys… the cardiac kids. My heart breaks for coach Loureiro, but we love to win.”
The loss for Escalon signaled the end of the legendary career of Escalon head coach Mark Loureiro, a longtime opponent and friend of Marques.
“A tough way to go out for myself and the seniors and this is what championship football is all about, this why you play, this why I coach,” Loureiro said. “Losing sucks. It’s not good, but you should be proud.”
Hilmar is back in the Division VI section final for the first time since 2015 when the Yellowjackets fell to Bradshaw Christian High, but the road back wasn’t the easiest for a ‘Jacket team that entered the tournament with a 5-5 record and had to topple the No. 3 and No. 2 seeds in the first and second rounds.
Prior to their back-to-back wins Hilmar had lost three of five, falling twice by two scores or more. Two of those losses came at the hands of Escalon and Modesto Christian High, the second of which will be Hilmar’s Division VI Championship opponent.
Hilmar fell to MC back on Oct. 20 in a 41-13 shellacking.
“That last game against MC was a fluke, we played terrible,” Hilmar’s Justin Rentfro said. “We had four fumbles, pick-six, another pick and our defense could not hold that many points, it was a fluke, we will show them who is the boss next week.”
Friday’s game to find out who would face Modesto Christian started off quickly, with the ‘Jackets and Cougars each scoring field goals on their opening drives.
From that point forward both sides went on a scoring frenzy.
Gaven Azevedo scored a touchdown and Isaac Sharp returned a kickoff for a touchdown for 89 yards. Sharp also rushed for a five-yard and a 11-yard touchdown later in the game.
The halftime score read 24-24.
“Our sideline and everything, our practice this week we did a great job on defense, on offense, we just keep working like this we can only stop ourselves,” Hilmar’s Nick Aguilera said.
Hilmar held Escalon to a punt in their opening drive of the second half while its offense marched down the field and scored after Tristan Crowley connected with Carter Azevedo on a 28-yard touchdown pass. The scoreboard read 31-24 in Hilmar’s favor with 8:54 left in the third quarter.
Escalon responded with a touchdown of its own with a little over a minute later to tie it 31-31.
Hilmar drove down the field to start the fourth quarter and scored on Sharp’s 11-yard scamper to take a 38-31 lead.
The ‘Jacket defense then forced Escalon to punt and their offense set up Millan for a 39-yard field goal with four minutes left, which eventually sealed the deal despite Escalon scoring on a one-play drive to cut the lead to 41-38.
“Ever since the beginning of playoffs, our coach said he felt bad for any team that we play. These men right here, our line, blocked their tails off tonight,” Rentfro added. “That is the reason I had my yards tonight was thanks to the line.”
The Yellowjackets made it dramatic in their penultimate drive as they fumbled the ball away, but the defense held on and forced a field goal attempt which was missed by Escalon, leaving Hilmar enough time to assume the victory formation.
“This is the best game of the year we had all season, we were putting in the work,” Hilmar’s Jared Collier said.
Hilmar will now take on a familiar foe in TVL rival, Modesto Christian in the Division VI Championship game at Lincoln High of Stockton at 6 p.m. Saturday.
“We are not viewing them as upsets, we are viewing it as we are going to win the next game, I mean we lost to Escalon first then won, so we are coming back to get another one,” Amarante added.