Resilient Escalon beats Hilmar for second straight Sac-Joaquin Section championship

·4 min read

When the game was on the line, Escalon coach Andrew Beam fittingly went to a blocking fullback recovering from a meniscus injury he suffered earlier in the season.

JP Lial didn’t disappoint.

The senior scored on a 3-yard run midway through the fourth quarter, leading the Cougars to a 20-13 victory over Hilmar in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V championship game on Saturday night at St. Mary’s High School in Stockton.

It was the second straight section crown for the Cougars, who beat Hilmar in the Division VI final in 2019, the last time section playoffs were held.

“(Each championship) is different, as I’m finding out,” Escalon coach Andrew Beam said. “Nothing is the same year in and year out. Unbelievable effort from our guys to be resilient and answer ... when things weren’t going our way.”

The team’s toughness was challenged before the game as running back Matthew Baptista, who rushed for 455 yards and nine touchdowns this season, was deemed out after suffering an injury last week against Ripon. During the game, running back Logan Anderson, who had rushed for over 700 yards and seven touchdowns, injured his ankle in the first half, and was limited in the second.

Anderson’s resilience in returning for the final two quarters mirrored that of an Escalon team that’s won nine straight and will play for a NorCal championship next week. Pairings will be announced Sunday afternoon.

“This is one of the biggest games we’re ever going to play in and I know my family, my teammates, my brothers would do the same for me,” Anderson said. “So I just sucked it up and played through it.”

Escalon (12-1) struck first courtesy of Ryker Peters, who burst through the left side of the Cougars’ offensive line and past the Yellowjackets’ secondary for 66 of his team-high 141 yards, scoring his only touchdown of the night.

The No. 1-seeded Cougars scored again after quarterback Donovan Rozevink found Owen Nash streaking down the right sideline. He heaved the ball to the receiver, who caught it, broke two tackles and crossed the goal line for a 45-yard connection.

Rozevink completed 8 of 12 passes for 150 yards and one touchdown.

Escalon Highs Ryker Peters, 1, works his way around Hilmar Highs defense. Escalon High School took on Hilmar High football during the 2021 CIF Sac-Joaquin Football Playoffs - Division V at Saint Mary’s High School in Stockton, Ca. Escalon came out on top as the champions with a 20-13 win over Hilmar.
Escalon Highs Ryker Peters, 1, works his way around Hilmar Highs defense. Escalon High School took on Hilmar High football during the 2021 CIF Sac-Joaquin Football Playoffs - Division V at Saint Mary’s High School in Stockton, Ca. Escalon came out on top as the champions with a 20-13 win over Hilmar.

Escalon’s defense dominated most of the first half and Tyler Medina had a lot to do with it. The junior had two interceptions and the defense forced Hilmar to punt on three straight possessions.

Aided by 17 yards on back-to-back Cougar penalties, Hilmar cut Escalon’s lead in half after marching down the field and scoring on a 6-yard Broc Perry touchdown run.

“That’s our resilience,” said Hilmar coach Frank Marques, whose program was playing in its fourth straight section title game. “They battled the whole game ... I’m proud of our kids at the end of the day.”

Coming out of halftime, Escalon got a spark from the injured Anderson, who returned the opening kickoff 66 yards to set up the Cougars on Hilmar’s 28 yard line.

Although the drive ended with a 43-yard missed field goal attempt, his presence was felt as he finished with 7 carries for 61 yards and was a big contributor on special teams.

“At first, I though it was broken,” Anderson said. “But after I got it taped, I knew I was ready to play. I knew I wasn’t going to come out of this game.”

Hilmar drove down the field on the ensuing possession and quarterback Jason Pimentel connected with Derek Taylor for an 11-yard touchdown to close the margin to 14-13 with 6 minutes, 58 seconds left in the third quarter.

Hilmar Highs Derek Taylor, 23 pushes Escalon Highs Owen Nash, 13, away as he makes his way up field. Escalon High School took on Hilmar High football during the 2021 CIF Sac-Joaquin Football Playoffs - Division V at Saint Mary’s High School in Stockton, Ca. Escalon came out on top as the champions with a 20-13 win over Hilmar.
Hilmar Highs Derek Taylor, 23 pushes Escalon Highs Owen Nash, 13, away as he makes his way up field. Escalon High School took on Hilmar High football during the 2021 CIF Sac-Joaquin Football Playoffs - Division V at Saint Mary’s High School in Stockton, Ca. Escalon came out on top as the champions with a 20-13 win over Hilmar.

Pimentel, who took over as the starter midseason, finished 6 of 20 for 79 yards and one passing touchdown and 17 carries for 78 yards.

Both teams traded fumbles and punts on their next two possessions between the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarters before Escalon got the ball back on the Hilmar 41 yard line.

Rozevink again connected with Nash, this time for a 36-yard pass on second and eight to set the Cougars up on the 3 yard line.

Beam then called on the 5-foot-6, 180-pound Lial, who took the handoff, put his head down and charged past the line of scrimmage and into the end zone to extend the lead to 20-13. with 6:49 left to play.

A tough player coming through for a tough team.

“JP’s gone through a lot this year, with reconstructive knee surgery,” Beam said. “But when we needed him most .... JP’s the guy we needed to give it to to go punch it in and he did just that.”

Escalon Highs Owen Nash, 13, jumps for a pass as Hilmar Highs Luke Cox, 1, and Jason Pimentel, 24, move in. Escalon High School took on Hilmar High football during the 2021 CIF Sac-Joaquin Football Playoffs - Division V at Saint Mary’s High School in Stockton, Ca. Escalon came out on top as the champions with a 20-13 win over Hilmar.
Escalon Highs Owen Nash, 13, jumps for a pass as Hilmar Highs Luke Cox, 1, and Jason Pimentel, 24, move in. Escalon High School took on Hilmar High football during the 2021 CIF Sac-Joaquin Football Playoffs - Division V at Saint Mary’s High School in Stockton, Ca. Escalon came out on top as the champions with a 20-13 win over Hilmar.
Escalon Highs Donovan Rozevink, 7, looks up field as Hilmar Highs Nicholas Vitorino, 50, closes in. Escalon High School took on Hilmar High football during the 2021 CIF Sac-Joaquin Football Playoffs - Division V at Saint Mary’s High School in Stockton, Ca. Escalon came out on top as the champions with a 20-13 win over Hilmar.
Escalon Highs Donovan Rozevink, 7, looks up field as Hilmar Highs Nicholas Vitorino, 50, closes in. Escalon High School took on Hilmar High football during the 2021 CIF Sac-Joaquin Football Playoffs - Division V at Saint Mary’s High School in Stockton, Ca. Escalon came out on top as the champions with a 20-13 win over Hilmar.
Hilmar Highs Noble Santos, 5, gets the handoff from Jason Pimentel, 24, as he goes for yards. Escalon High School took on Hilmar High football during the 2021 CIF Sac-Joaquin Football Playoffs - Division V at Saint Mary’s High School in Stockton, Ca. Escalon came out on top as the champions with a 20-13 win over Hilmar.
Hilmar Highs Noble Santos, 5, gets the handoff from Jason Pimentel, 24, as he goes for yards. Escalon High School took on Hilmar High football during the 2021 CIF Sac-Joaquin Football Playoffs - Division V at Saint Mary’s High School in Stockton, Ca. Escalon came out on top as the champions with a 20-13 win over Hilmar.
Jason Pimentel, 24, gets taken down by the defense from Escalon High. Escalon High School took on Hilmar High football during the 2021 CIF Sac-Joaquin Football Playoffs - Division V at Saint Mary’s High School in Stockton, Ca. Escalon came out on top as the champions with a 20-13 win over Hilmar.
Jason Pimentel, 24, gets taken down by the defense from Escalon High. Escalon High School took on Hilmar High football during the 2021 CIF Sac-Joaquin Football Playoffs - Division V at Saint Mary’s High School in Stockton, Ca. Escalon came out on top as the champions with a 20-13 win over Hilmar.
Jp Lial, 24, of Escalon High dives into the end zone for a second half touchdown. Escalon High School took on Hilmar High football during the 2021 CIF Sac-Joaquin Football Playoffs - Division V at Saint Mary’s High School in Stockton, Ca. Escalon came out on top as the champions with a 20-13 win over Hilmar.
Jp Lial, 24, of Escalon High dives into the end zone for a second half touchdown. Escalon High School took on Hilmar High football during the 2021 CIF Sac-Joaquin Football Playoffs - Division V at Saint Mary’s High School in Stockton, Ca. Escalon came out on top as the champions with a 20-13 win over Hilmar.
Escalon Highs Ryker Peters, 1, works his way through Hilmars defense. Escalon High School took on Hilmar High football during the 2021 CIF Sac-Joaquin Football Playoffs - Division V at Saint Mary’s High School in Stockton, Ca. Escalon came out on top as the champions with a 20-13 win over Hilmar.
Escalon Highs Ryker Peters, 1, works his way through Hilmars defense. Escalon High School took on Hilmar High football during the 2021 CIF Sac-Joaquin Football Playoffs - Division V at Saint Mary’s High School in Stockton, Ca. Escalon came out on top as the champions with a 20-13 win over Hilmar.
Escalon High head coach gets an ice bath from the players as they celebrate their win over Hilmar. Escalon High School took on Hilmar High football during the 2021 CIF Sac-Joaquin Football Playoffs - Division V at Saint Mary’s High School in Stockton, Ca. Escalon came out on top as the champions with a 20-13 win over Hilmar.
Escalon High head coach gets an ice bath from the players as they celebrate their win over Hilmar. Escalon High School took on Hilmar High football during the 2021 CIF Sac-Joaquin Football Playoffs - Division V at Saint Mary’s High School in Stockton, Ca. Escalon came out on top as the champions with a 20-13 win over Hilmar.
Blake Westmoreland, 21, of Hilmar High round the defense of Escalon High on his way up field. Escalon High School took on Hilmar High football during the 2021 CIF Sac-Joaquin Football Playoffs - Division V at Saint Mary’s High School in Stockton, Ca. Escalon came out on top as the champions with a 20-13 win over Hilmar.
Blake Westmoreland, 21, of Hilmar High round the defense of Escalon High on his way up field. Escalon High School took on Hilmar High football during the 2021 CIF Sac-Joaquin Football Playoffs - Division V at Saint Mary’s High School in Stockton, Ca. Escalon came out on top as the champions with a 20-13 win over Hilmar.