When Hilmar and Escalon square off Friday night in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V quarterfinals, it will be the fifth straight season — excluding the shortened COVID campaign — that the Trans-Valley League rivals have met twice in the same year.
In other words: the road to the section championship goes through one of these communities.
The fourth-seeded Yellowjackets (7-3) defeated the Cougars (8-3) 21-20 on Sept. 30 on their way to the outright league championship and a first-round bye.
No. 5 Escalon is coming off a 55-0 victory over Pacheco (Los Banos) in the playoff opener.
“It’s just part of getting to the section championship,” said Hilmar coach Frank Marques. “That’s the beast in front of us, and we have to slay it.”
Hilmar v Escalon History
D-V quarterfinal: Friday: Escalon at Hilmar, 7 p.m.
Regular season: Hilmar 21, Escalon 20
D-V final: Escalon 20, Hilmar 13
Regular season: Escalon 24, Hilmar 14
D-VI final: Escalon 41, Hilmar 27
Regular season: Escalon 34, Hilmar 21
D-VI semifinal: Hilmar 28, Escalon 18
Regular season: Hilmar 20, Escalon 17 (OT)
D-VI semifinal: Hilmar 41, Escalon 38
Regular season: Escalon 28, Hilmar 14
The Cougars were the preseason favorite to win the TVL title, but lost league games to Hilmar and Hughson and finished third in the conference standings.
But Marques knows this is a dangerous team.
“If we can beat them again, it would be huge for our team,” said Marques, whose team beat Escalon in the semifinal round in 2017 and 2018 on the way to section titles, then lost to the Cougars in the 2019 and 2021 finals. “Our kids have had two great weeks of practice. Our kids are dialed in and focused. We haven’t really taken any time off. The bye week didn’t matter for us.”
Hudson Azevedo started the season at quarterback for the Yellowjackets before injuring his throwing shoulder in a 28-20 loss to Sonora on Sept. 2. Azevedo returned for the final two weeks of the regular season and is now fully incorporated into the offense as a slot receiver. Caden Bailey, a sophomore who was called up from the junior varsity squad to replace Azevedo, will be making his eighth start of the season.
“Hudson’s excited,” said Marques. “He loves his new role. He saw that his shoulder wasn’t ready and he figured the best way he could help the team was as a receiver and a safety.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at McSweeney Field.
Bulldogs prepare for tough competition in round two
Turlock High football coach James Peterson is well aware that the vast majority of planet Earth thinks the Bulldogs’ season will come to an end on Friday night against undefeated St. Mary’s (Stockton) in the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs.
Earlier this season, the No. 2 Rams (10-0) blew out the team (Central Catholic) that beat the team (Manteca) that blew out No. 8 Turlock on Sept. 9. St. Mary's also has a win against mighty De La Salle this season.
Based on that math, CalPreps.com has installed the Rams as a 21-point favorite over Turlock (7-4).
Peterson just shrugs it off.
“If I didn’t think we had a chance, I wouldn’t be getting on the bus Friday night,” said Peterson, whose team beat Edison (Stockton) 35-0 last week in a nearly flawless performance. “We’ve got nothing to lose.”
Despite the marquee wins against Central Catholic (47-7) and De La Salle (45-35), the Rams showed a tendency to sputter out of the gate during Tri-City Athletic League play.
In a 35-14 win over Lodi, St. Mary's was tied with the Flames 7-7 after one quarter and led just 14-7 at the half. In a 63-33 win over Tracy, the Rams were tied with the Bulldogs 7-7 after the first quarter and held a slim 28-27 advantage at the break. In a 38-7 win over Tokay, the Rams actually trailed 7-3 heading into the second quarter. And in a 42-14 win over Lincoln to close the regular season, SM held a slim 14-7 lead at halftime.
“They’ve played tight in the beginning of games and then showed a tendency to pour it on late,” said Peterson. “We played our schedule for a reason. We’ve been in big games. We’ve played against opponents like this. We’ve taken a two-hour bus ride to Concord.”
Perhaps the biggest win for the Bulldogs this season came in the season opener, when they beat Rocklin 14-7. Folsom, the No. 1 seed in the Division I bracket, beat the Thunder — who earned a first-round bye in the D-II playoffs — by an identical score.
“Hey, I always tell 'em, ‘That guy across the line puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like you,’” said Peterson. “Why can’t this be our time to shine? Why not us?”