Doug Clark will have to wait a little bit longer to collect his first win. The first-year Calaveras High School head football coach stood before his players following a tough 24-7 loss to the Escalon Cougars and his postgame speech could have gone a number of ways.
Clark could have raised his voice and yelled at his players for not collecting a victory. He could have pointed out mistakes and miscues that cost his team the game. Instead, Clark went a different route.
With all eyes focused on Clark, the coach showered his team with complements. Clark knew heading into Friday’s contest that his squad was the underdog and it would take a perfect game to knock off the powerful Cougars. While his team didn’t play a perfect game, he thanked them for playing as hard and courageous as they did.
“There’s no reason for them to hang their heads,” Clark said. “There’s obviously some things that we need to fix, change and correct, but tonight was 100-percent a moral victory. Because of injuries, we had guys jump into spots that they’ve never played before and I’m proud of the way my guys competed here tonight.”
The one thing that Clark wasn’t happy to see was the number of players who had to leave the field as a result of cramping. Seemingly every other play, a Calaveras player hobbled off the gridiron needing to be stretched out. Because of the constant carousel of injured players, there were times that Calaveras had to be creative with who was on the field. Clark hopes that cramping will not be an issue the next time his team suits up to play.
“You can’t wait until Thursday night or Friday morning to start hydrating, it has to be done all week long,” Clark said. “That’s something that we will discuss as a team at a much higher-level next week.”
With the sun still shining at as the opening kickoff took place, not much went right for Calaveras in the opening 12 minutes. Calaveras ran four plays to begin the game and couldn’t gain 10 yards and turned the ball over on downs to Escalon at midfield. It didn’t take long for Escalon to reach the end zone and after a 12-yard touchdown pass, the Cougars led 7-0 with 8:40 to play in the first quarter.
Calaveras again couldn't move the ball on offense and had to punt following a three-and-out. But a roughing the kicker penalty gave Calaveras new life and with the ball on its own 45-yard line, junior running back Clayton Moore broke free for 23 yards to move into Escalon territory. Calaveras moved all the way to the Cougar 4-yard line and attempted a 21-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter. Kicker Andrew Celli’s attempt was blocked and Calaveras again was held off the scoreboard.
“It sucks not getting points in that situation,” senior quarterback Nolan Dart said. “Obviously it’s not the outcome we wanted, but I thought that our drive was pretty good and we wanted to move that momentum onto the next drive.”
Escalon methodically moved the ball into Calaveras territory and with less than seven minutes to play in the first half, were looking at a fourth-and-three on Calaveras’ seven. The Cougars went for the first down, but senior linebacker Zeke Martinez made a perfect tackle to bring the running back down a yard shy of the first down marker.
Calaveras took over on its own 5-yard line with 6:25 to play in the second quarter. Escalon helped out Calaveras with two 15-yard penalties. The biggest play of the first half came from senior Jonny Lozano, who took a handoff and tried to go around the left side, found there was no daylight and reversed his path. Lozano bounced back around the right side and as he got the edge, Dart turned into a lead blocker and helped pave the way for a 37-yard gain which put Calaveras inside the Escalon 20.
“I can only do so much most of the plays,” Dart said. “I can hand it off and sometimes I can push the pile forward. But when I saw Lozano coming back my way, I just wanted to do everything I could to help because the rest of my teammates are out there busting their butts every play.”
Calaveras moved down to the Escalon 4-yard line and on second-and-goal, Dart connected with junior Jake Black for a 4-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-7 with 3:57 to play in the opening half. Calaveras’ touchdown drive covered 95-yards.
“We’ve been practicing that play so I was ready for it,” Dart said of his first career pass and touchdown. “The corner bit on the motion and he (Black) was wide open.”
Calaveras’ defense continued to play strong and didn’t allow Escalon to add any more points in the first half and both teams went into their respective locker rooms with a 7-7 tie.
“The first half was exactly what we were expecting,” junior fullback/linebacker Donivan Giangregorio said.
The second half wasn’t kind to Calaveras. Escalon scored on its first two possessions and Calaveras posted back-to-back three-and-outs and ended the third quarter trailing 21-7. Cramping became more of a factor late in the game and Calaveras didn’t have fresh enough bodies to stick with the powerful Escalon offense.
“I’m going to be honest, we weren’t prepared for that,” Giangregorio said. “But, we were also out of shape. We started cramping up and that didn’t help.”
Following an Escalon field goal with 8:15 to play, Calaveras decided to move the ball through the air and it paid off. Dart connected with Moore for a 29-yard completion, but it was Moore’s one-handed circus catch that brought everyone in attendance to their feet. Dart followed that with a 13-yard completion to Giangregorio and Calaveras once again was inside the Escalon 20. But once again, the drive stalled and Calaveras’ offense could score no points.
In his first varsity start at quarterback, Dart finished the game 4 for 5 for 58 yards and one touchdown, which impressed Clark.
“The passing game will get there and we’ve talked about wanting to incorporate more of a passing game this year,” Clark said. “Tonight was a big stepping stone and a big boost of confidence to give us another weapon.”
Calaveras was outscored 17-0 in the final 24 minutes and outgained 247-82. As a team, Calaveras rushed for 172 yards on 39 carries for an average of 4.41 yards per attempt. Moore led all Calaveras rushers with 77 yards on 18 carries.
Even though Calaveras was unable to pick up a victory over the tough Escalon squad, Giangregorio doesn’t feel concerned with the remainder of the season.
“I’m very excited for how we played,” Giangregorio said. “All we have to do is get in better shape, fix the mistakes and I think we’re going to win sections.”
Calaveras (0-1) returns to action Sept. 6 to take on Modesto Christian (0-2) at 7:30 p.m. in Modesto.
“I just hope our kids continue to play and battle like they did tonight,” Clark said. “If they play like they played tonight the rest of the preseason and we go 0-5, I’m going to be just as happy as I am right now.”
Calaveras’ JV squad lost to Escalon 22-8 at Frank Meyer Field in San Andreas.
Calaveras struck first with an 8-yard touchdown run from Braeden Orlandi. Orlandi then caught a pass from quarterback Travis Byrd for the 2-point conversion and Calaveras led 8-0 in the first quarter. The first half ended with Calaveras leading 8-6.
The second half belonged to Escalon, who outscored Calaveras 16-0.
Orlandi rushed for 79 yards and one score on 16 carries and Jeylin Calbert rushed for 62 yards on nine attempts. Byrd threw for 35 yards on four completions.
Calaveras (0-1) will not return to action until Sept. 13, when it hosts Ripon in San Andreas.