Workhorses Adrian Cortes and Josh Miguel piled up more than 200 muddy, slippery yards between them and quarterback Gino Franceschetti completed 3-of-4 pass attempts, including one for a touchdown, as the Escalon Cougars washed away the Madison Warhawks in a decisive 30-14 victory on Saturday, Dec. 18 to claim the Division III football State Championship.
Rain that fell intermittently in the morning at the Home Depot Center in Carson developed into a steady rain midway through the first quarter and, except for a few occasional breaks, continued to pour down on the contest as the Warhawks and Cougars battled it out for the state's highest high school football honor.
The rain played into the hands of the Cougars, who had more experience playing in adverse conditions than their Southern California (San Diego) counterparts, and the tenacious Escalon defense forced the Warhawks to scramble, upsetting their rhythm and resulting in a victory for the North over the South in the season's final game.
Escalon was the first public school from the Northern Section to be invited to the state championship game and, as head coach Mark Loureiro noted, had many other small school teams with them in spirit as they took the field.
"We had a lot of fans up there in Northern California rooting for us," he said following the victory. "Sure, it's win for our team and our community but this is also for those small school teams that thought they never had a chance ... this shows that through hard work and dedication, everybody's got hope and a chance."
Madison came in a three-touchdown favorite, an athletic, skilled team that had won its previous playoff contests by wide margins. Primarily a passing team, they were frustrated on offense. That had more to do with Escalon than the weatherman, as the Warhawks were not able to get much going against a defense that recovered four fumbles, batted down several passes, had an interception and recorded multiple sacks on the afternoon.
"Credit our defense, our defense just played outstanding," said Loureiro. "We had a great four man rush in Nate Caton, Tony Vincent, Travis James and Shane Silveira, with Daniel Alcantor in there, we just got a good push up the field and then we mixed the blitzes in a few times, which is where we got our sacks.
"We slammed their running game down and made the team one dimensional."
Madison won the toss and elected to take the opening kickoff but, after one first down conversion, had to punt the ball away on the next series. Escalon drove in on their first possession and thought they had a touchdown but officials ruled Josh Miguel was stopped just short of the end zone. With the ball so close, the Cougars went for the score on the ensuing fourth down play rather than kick a field goal but the Madison defense held them out, taking over on downs inside the 5-yard line. But the ball carrier taken down in the end zone by Adrian Cortes put two points on the board for the Cougars, giving them a 2-0 lead in the first quarter.
Second quarter action saw a 6-yard run by Miguel good for the TD, although the Madison crowd wasn't convinced, as the ball fell from his hands. Miguel dove up and over a would-be tackler at the end of the run, the ball in his outstretched hand breaking the plane of the end zone and then coming loose as he came down. The play stood, the extra point was good and it was 9-0 Escalon.
The Warhawks answered back on their next possession, however, with a huge pass play going 40 yards for the score and the extra point good to trim the lead to 9-7. But as the rain started falling harder, the Cougars settled in to their smashmouth style, churning up the yards and making headway up the field, while Madison saw their offense sputter and stall.
"We played in the same weather they did, our quarterback was 3-for-4 and we did a nice job getting the ball up the field," Loureiro said.
Junior Gino Franceschetti did not throw an interception, completing three passes for 89 yards. Madison was 14-for-31 for 189 yards and had one interception, a late game pick by Joey Ratto that stopped a Warhawks drive.
Miguel scored his second touchdown of the game on a 9-yard run, with Brandon Shaw also getting into the end zone in the second quarter, pulling in a 42-yard pass and evading the Madison tacklers to go in for the score. The point after by Franceschetti was again good and it was a 23-7 lead for Escalon as they headed off the field for halftime.
"We played real smart ball, we only gave up one big play," said Loureiro. "Our offensive line played great, and Gino put the football in the hands of our top two running backs."
Loureiro said his keys for the game included "moving the chains and taking care of the ball" and the Cougars did both those things, much more effectively than the team on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
"What Gino brings to this team is that he's a calm presence but a fierce competitor," Loureiro added. "He had to scramble to get a couple of first downs and he made great decisions. The numbers may not always be flashy, but they are always solid numbers and Gino's side always wins."
Neither team scored in the third quarter, with the Cougars sealing the win with a touchdown on a 6-yard keeper by Franceschetti around the left side with the clock winding down in the fourth quarter. The kick was good and the team was sniffing victory with a 30-7 lead late in the fourth. Madison did convert on a 13-yard pass play late in the game but by then, the Warhawks were out of time and it was the Cougars - the underdog Cougars - hoisting the championship hardware and sporting the new CIF 'State Champions' hats.
Escalon had 16 first downs in the game to Madison's 11 and the Cougars had 335 total yards on 56-for-246 rushing, 3-for-4 for 89 yards passing. They were penalized three times for 25 yards and lost two fumbles. Madison had 218 total yards, 19 rushes for 29 yards and 14-for-31 passing for 189 yards. They lost four of six fumbles and were penalized 10 times for 65 yards.
Escalon got receptions from Shaw, Matt Roberson (24 yards) and James Hill (25 yards) on the day, with the catch by Roberson helping keep a drive alive with another new set of downs.
"Defensively, our leading tacklers were Tony Vincent with six tackles and two fumble recoveries, Shane Silveira with six tackles and a sack, Adrian Cortes with four tackles, two sacks and two fumble recoveries," said Loureiro.
Gil Mancilla, Shaw and Miguel added five tackles each, Nate Caton and Hill each had a sack and Ratto had the interception.
"Obviously the rain played into helping us but still, we took care of the ball, we didn't make mistakes," Loureiro summed up. "They made the mistakes and we capitalized. My hat's off to our kids.
(Courtesy of the Escalon Times written by Marg Jackson.)