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League titles — and a milk can — on the line in Week 8
Milk Can Trophy
The chromium Milk Can trophy for the inaugural Vaca Bowl displays the logos of Escalon and Hilmar on each side with each team’s slogan. For Escalon, their side of the trophy reads, “Tradition never graduates;” while Hilmar’s side reads, “The tradition continues.”

There’s a lot on the line for a few local teams in the eighth week of the 2023 prep football season. This Friday, two games in Modesto will likely determine the champions of the Central California Athletic League and the Trans-Valley League.

At Modesto Junior College, the Hilmar Yellowjackets (5-2, 2-0) and the Escalon Cougars (6-1, 2-0) will meet in a matchup that could determine whether Escalon can hold onto sole possession of the TVL title through the remainder of the season, or whether Hilmar can guarantee themselves a share of the league championship.

Not only will the two schools be battling for position in the standings, but they will try to take home the Milk Can — a new, chromed-out trophy that will be presented to the winner in what is now being tabbed at the “Vaca Bowl.”

Vaca is the Portuguese translation for “cow,” which is fitting considering the large Portuguese populations and the long history of dairies in each town.

The brains behind the inaugural Vaca Bowl is Danny Medina, a hoof trimmer from Escalon who works throughout the region, including in Hilmar.

“Danny was interested in trying to put this together, and once we had Hilmar’s blessing to do it, we gave him the go ahead. He has put a lot of time and effort into this Milk Can trophy, and it’s beautiful,” said Escalon head coach Andrew Beam.

The chromium Milk Can trophy displays the logos of Escalon and Hilmar on each side with each team’s slogan. For Escalon, their side of the trophy reads, “Tradition never graduates;” while Hilmar’s side reads, “The tradition continues.”

“The Escalon and Hilmar rivalry, to me, is second to none in our area,” said Beam. “In terms of competitive head to head matches, the all-time record is almost completely even. And then you think about how many times we face and beat each other in the playoffs? We've seen each other twice in a season almost every year.

“I think our towns are very similar and our people are very similar, so this has all the makeup of a rivalry game, and that’s what makes it all so special.”

Five out of the last six games between the two schools have gone in Escalon’s favor. Nevertheless, both Beam and Hilmar head coach Frank Marques are preparing for each other’s best.

“Every game is always really competitive and hard fought. They just happened to get the best of us to last the past couple of years, but this year is the same thing where it'll usually come down to the team that makes less mistakes,” Marques said. “It's going to be a hard fought game and I like our chances. I think we have a good shot.”

“The TVL is just tough every week,” Beam added. “And when you play teams as often as we've had to play each other, there's not a lot of secrets… You kind of throw out records, projections and predictions and rivalry games. None of those things matter because there's just so much more being played in between those lines when it comes to the pride of those communities.”

Down the road at Chuck Hughes Stadium, there won’t be a unique trophy on the line, but the Turlock Bulldogs (2-5, 2-0) and the Downey Knights (6-1, 2-0) will still play under similar circumstances. Whoever loses on Friday night will most likely experience their only league loss of the year.

“Downey is a tough opponent,” said Turlock head coach James Peterson. “They’ve been the CCAL leaders the past two years. We definitely need to pull out all the stops for those guys.”

The Knights downed the Bulldogs en route to their league titles in each of the last two seasons. Last year was perhaps the most heartbreaking for the Turlock team, as a field goal off the foot of Elijah Reyneveld as time expired handed the Bulldogs their only league loss of the season. Meanwhile, the Knights went on to go undefeated the rest of the way in league competition.

The Bulldogs feel as if this year will be different.

“This is our league to lose. We just need to keep it ours,” said Turlock lineman Kristian Guerrero following last week’s Harvest Bowl victory over Pitman. “We can’t give it away. This is our year.”