Nursing a seven-point lead late in the third quarter, Escalon head coach Andrew Beam tapped into his inner Mark Loureiro and dialed up an 80-yard, 15-play scoring drive that chewed up nearly 9 minutes of clock, lifting the Cougars to a 21-14 win over Hughson Friday night in a Trans-Valley League showdown between two defending state champions.
In 28 years at Escalon, Loureiro became the winningest coach in Sac-Joaquin Section history (277 victories) with a steadfast devotion to the running game.
Beam, who has produced two state championships since taking over for his old mentor in 2018, updated the playbook and relies more heavily on the passing game than Loureiro ever did.
With the game on the line, Beam went old school.
“That was like the 1990s right there,” said Hughson coach Shaun King, referring to the decade when the Hughson-Escalon rivalry was at its zenith.
Escalon took a 14-7 lead midway through the third quarter when Josh Graham (26 carries, 119 yards) scored on a 1-yard plunge into the end zone.
Hughson countered by driving into the red zone, but came away empty when Ernie Mendoza’s 34-yard field-goal attempt was wide left.
The Cougars took over on their own 20 with 50 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Eight minutes and 42 seconds later — with 4:08 left in the game — Escalon made it 21-7 when quarterback Donovan Rozevink hit tight end Ryan Lewis from 5 yards out.
“I’ll be honest,” said Beam. “I was afraid to give them the ball back, knowing what they could with the passing game.
“Our defense played great tonight, but I felt we needed to go try to win it on offense. And we made a couple big plays and catches on third-and-long and fourth-and-long.”
The Huskies started their ensuing possession on their own 2, but crossed midfield quickly when Alex Villarreal busted loose for a 50-yard gain. Seven plays later, Villarreal scored from the 8 to cut the margin to 21-14 with 2:17 to play.
Escalon recovered the onside kick and was able to run out the clock thanks to a 3-yard gain by Graham on third-and-1.
Hughson struck first in the contest when David Burns scored from 2 yards out with 4:18 to play in the first quarter. Escalon countered on its next possession when Rozevink snuck it in from the 1 to cap a 12-play, 57-yard drive.
On its next possession, Hughson marched all the way to the Cougars’ 1-yard line, but a false-start infraction moved the ball back to the 6. Escalon was called for pass interference on third down, moving the ball half the distance to the goal line, setting up fourth-and-goal from the 3.
King kept the field-goal unit on the sideline and went for six.
Tight end Max Mankins hauled in a pass from quarterback Robert McDaniel at the back of the end zone, but he didn’t come down with the ball inbounds, and Escalon took over with 3:38 left in the half.
The game marked a rare league meeting between reigning state champions. Hughson won the CIF Division 5-AA crown last season, while Escalon took the CIF 4-AA title.
The Cougars (5-1) will travel to face Modesto Christian next week, while the Huskies (4-2) pay a visit to Livingston.