ESCALON — Saturday night was COVID in a nutshell.
Trans-Valley League powerhouses and defending state champions Ripon and Escalon squared off in a brutal dual at Engel Field, except it was not a contest with the TVL championship on the line every fall like it normally is — it was not even a TVL game and it was in the spring.
Due to COVID, leagues have been geographically rearranged, and an abbreviated football season was scheduled in the spring, so the Indians and the Cougars found themselves in the Valley Oak League. But the time the dust settled Saturday, Escalon came away with a white-knuckles 10-7 VOL win.
“All the credit to them,” Ripon coach Chris Musseman said. “They did a good job preparing for us and we didn’t execute very well tonight. We looked like a team that hadn’t practiced in 10 to 12 days. The rust was there and we couldn’t quite get it off and you are not going to beat a good, well-coached team without preparing for them.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the effort tonight and everything they gave. They did a great job. To come into a game against a team like Escalon and take them to the end of the fourth quarter when you haven’t practiced is just a huge deal. We got off a 10-day quarantine today.”
Ripon was forced to miss its final home game of the season last week against Weston Ranch because of coronavirus cases within the program. Escalon has also been affected by COVID-19 and had its last two games against Hughson and Kimball canceled.
On Saturday, the Indians (0-3) found themselves with fourth down and 4 yards to go for a first down at the Cougars 14-yard line at the end of the third quarter. Bronson Burrow pulled in a 12-yard pass from Aaron Wood to give Ripon first down and goal to go at the Escalon 2. On the final play of the period the Indians tallied an illegal-procedure penalty, and Ripon would not find the end zone again.
“We should have won,” Musseman said. “We made a couple of mistakes deep in their territory which kept us from scoring.”
Ripon got on the board in the second quarter with a 9-yard scoring run by Mason Knight. The Cougars (1-1) took the lead for good on a 33-yard third-quarter field goal by Brian Barrientos.
One thing Escalon had that gave the Indians fits was the torrid passing-receiving combo of Ty Harris to Owen Nash. The two combined for 174 yards on just six completions.
Ripon got the ball back in the closing seconds and were forced to throw a Hail Mary on the game’s last play which was intercepted. As the play came to a close flags flew with the Cougars drawing two unsportsmanlike-conduct as the game ended.
“These games with Ripon are rivalries,” Escalon coach Andrew Beam said. “They are wars.
“I thought it would be a low-scoring dog fight and that is exactly what it was.”
Ripon 0 7 0 0 – 7
Escalon 7 0 3 0 – 10
E — Luke Anderson 5 run (Brian Barrientos kick), 2:37
R — Mason Knight 9 run (Knight kick), 8:53
E — Barrientos 33 field goal, 5:33