Palpable history. That’s what Trans Valley League rivals Hilmar and Escalon share.
They’ve battled for years in league play and have faced off four times in post-season play — with three of those meetings taking place in section championship games.
In the quarterfinal matchup of the Division IV Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs, the Yellowjackets and Cougars added to their shared ledger as Hilmar completed its first season sweep of its rival with a 14-7 victory.
“Escalon and the history has been that the team that won the first game has never won the second game,” Head coach Frank Marques said. “They did everything they could to wreck that for us.”
Hilmar opened the game with two consecutive scoring drives. A 14 yard touchdown pass from Jonathan O’Brien to Kris Camden was followed by a one yard touchdown plunge from O’Brien. The ‘Jackets wouldn’t find the end zone again for the rest of the game, but with its defensive unit led by the likes of Joseph Bello, 14 points was all it needed.
“This is probably the biggest game I’ve ever played in my entire life, it was amazing. I was in the section game as a sophomore and this was still the best game ever played,” Bello said.
While Hilmar’s offense experience success early, Escalon’s was met full force by Bello, David Bisby, Robert Lindo, Beau Balswick, and Tyler Robinson who forced three consecutive four and outs and didn’t allow a Cougar first down until the second quarter.
By halftime, Escalon had only managed three first downs and were held to 80 first-half yards.
“Our defense played really, really well and they had no answers for our defense. Everything that they got I think they were helped along,” Marques said.
Escalon’s “help” came via the officiating crew who drew the ire of Hilmar’s coaching staff, players, and fans throughout the game with questionable penalties, calls, and ball placement.
“I thought we did really well, except the officials stopped four of our drives with penalties and horrible spotting. Twice we had first downs and the referees spotted the ball a yard back, so it was tough,” Marques said. “The second half I felt like I was playing Escalon and the officials.”
The contentious relationship between the referees and the Yellowjackets came to a head when—with Escalon knocking on Hilmar’s end zone for the first time from the 11 yard line— Bello seemingly forced a fumble which was then scooped up and recovered by Lindo. Unfortunately, a quick whistle prompted the referees to nullify the play and give possession back to Escalon.
Two plays later the Cougars found pay dirt on a five yard touchdown run from Christian May for their lone score of the game.
“I think I forced the fumble, but the refs called it dead. The refs are final, that’s what it is,” Bello said.
Escalon finished with 206 total yards while Hilmar finished with 182 total yards, 145 of which came in the first half. Hilmar’s defense ended the night with one interception by way of Giovanni Salcedo.
“Our defense has been winning games for us all year,” Bello said.
Number two Hilmar now advances to next Friday’s semifinal playoff game against sixth seed Center High at home.