Once a Cougar, Always a Cougar

By Rick Mello,                     EHS Class of '82

“Once a Cougar, always a cougar,”  I’ve used that line a lot over the last twenty-plus years (including in my interview for fire chief) to explain why I desire to spend my Friday nights following a high school football team.  I explain that they just don’t understand, this isn’t just high school football its Cougar football.  As a 1982 EHS graduate I’ve spent many years bleeding the purple and gold.  I have followed the Cougars through the Mark Loureiro era, enjoying those Friday nights, and the Saturday’s at UOP.  I watched the 1993 team defeat Ripon and win the first mythical state title, the 1996 team come from behind to defeat Hughson with a last second field goal,  on their way to a second mythical state title, the 2002 Cougars shut out Calaveras for the section championship and the 2005 team shut down Hilmar and Nate Costa, as well as all those along the way. 

    This year has been no exception.  Although I missed the Lathrop, Dixon, Riverbank and Hughson games, I was there the rest of the way.  I think it was after the 68-14 drubbing of Orestimba that the talk of this team and a section title really started in the stands.  Following the defeat of Modesto Christian and the conclusion of an undefeated run through the TVL, it was time for the playoff brackets.  There in the D-IV 4b bracket was Central Catholic in round two.  After running though Amador it was Friday night at home against Central.  Central Catholic had been the arch nemesis of the Cougars for years, but on this Friday night it was the Cougars coming out on top in dominating fashion 28-0 in the soaking rain.  Colfax came in the Friday after Thanksgiving and went down 41-6 setting up the section D-IV championship with Calaveras at Lincoln High. 

I was wondering why they would hold a section championship at a high school stadium until I walked into A.G. Spanos Stadium.  This night looked all Cougars until the Redskins mounted there comeback and took the lead.  With a little over two-minutes left, I wondered what tricks Mark had up his sleeve to mount the comeback.  I had a conversation with my brother-in-law on the way to the game about how some things are just meant to be and if the Cougars were supposed to win they would. I will admit that with 4th down and 21 to go on the Cougar 19, my shoulders were slouched as Gino Franceschetti let the pass fly down the field and when the ball deflected up in the air and Brandon Shaw came down with it and drug Calaveras defenders twenty yards down the field, I quickly switched to it looks like this is supposed to be mode.  Well, as we all know the field goal was good and the Cougars were once again Sac Joaquin Section Champs.  Now a shot at the State D-III bowl was at least a reality, but the Cougars would need some help.

I found out Saturday that Marin Catholic was defeated and that the Cougars hopes of a state bowl bid would be determined by the outcome of the Encinal – Cardinal Newman game the following Friday.  Friday, December 10th came and I managed to find a live blog on the internet of the game.  It was early in the second half and Cardinal Newman led 14-7.  As I followed the blog the lead grew to 35-7 and the Cougars had their chance.  Now we would wait to hear the results of the vote of the ten section commissioners.  I got home from church Sunday morning and started searching the blogs and websites and there it was.  Escalon would play Madison for the D-III championship.  I was heading for Carson.

This was a special team and a special season.  I was amazed by what a great group of young men this team was.  How respectful they were when I would go down on the field to congratulate them after the games and how some were so willing to outwardly display their faith.  This was an incredibly deserving group and would without a doubt represent Escalon well.

My Chronology of a Championship Trip

Friday, December 17:

5:00 a.m.  The alarm goes off and I head to the high school at 5:30.  Myself and one of our engines, along with Escalon P.D. and Ambulance will escort the two team buses out of town.  We escort them to Highway 120 and Carrolton Road.

1:30 p.m.  My daughter and I depart for the Residence Inn in Torrance.

8:17 p.m.  After a fuel and dinner stop along the way, we arrive in Torrance.  Watch the local news and see that Palo Alto has won the D-I championship, one for the north.  We will meet up with my Uncle and cousin and his daughter in the morning.

Saturday, December 18:

10:10 a.m.  We depart our hotel on our way to the Home Depot Center.  My daughter and I in Purple and her with her Cougar bear.

10:30 a.m.  We arrive at the Home Depot Center and head for the gates with pre-purchased tickets in hand.  The gates were supposed to open at 10:30, but they don’t let us in until 11:00, so we wait in the rain.

11:53 a.m.  The Cougars, in their white jerseys and gold pants enter the end zone to take the field.  RAIN!  Receive a text at half-time from my friend Chief Vic Solari of Linden Fire, are you watching the game?  My reply, I’m here.  His reply back, NICE!  We’re watching at the station – Go Cougars!

2:42 p.m.  43.2 seconds remaining in the game.  Escalon 30 Madison 14.  Gino takes a knee.

2:58 p.m.  State championship trophy presented to the Cougars.  Coach Mark Loureiro declares, “we talked at half-time about bringing the country to the city, there’s the country, we’re in the city and there’s the scoreboard.”

3:10 p.m.  Searching the stadium for the gold Cougar D-III bowl hats, but the vendors tell me the Escalon stuff sold out.

3:33 p.m.  Leaving the parking lot of the Home Depot Center on our way back home. 

10:40 p.m.  After a dinner and fuel stop in Bakersfield we arrive back home.  To excited and amped up to sleep, watch the recorded game on my DVR.

Congratulations Cougars!  Blessings for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!