HILMAR — Beating a top-flight football program like Escalon is tough do once in a season. Hilmar will attempt to do it for a second time tonight.
The second-seeded Yellowjackets (11-0) host the 10th-seeded Cougars (7-4) in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 quarterfinal matchup at McSweeney Field.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“I look at it as a good thing,” Hilmar head coach Frank Marques said. “This is a great opportunity to face one of the best programs around. It’s a great yardstick. We’re pretending the first game doesn’t exist. They’re going to make adjustments and we’re going to make adjustments.”
In other playoff action tonight, top-seeded Le Grand (10-0) hosts No. 4 Waterford (6-5) and No.2 Mariposa (8-2) hosts No. 3 Golden Sierra (6-5) in the Division 5 semifinals. Both games will start at 7 p.m.
The Bulldogs are also playing the Wildcats in a rematch. Le Grand won the first game 52-14 on Oct. 11.
“Playing a team twice in the same year can be a difficult thing,” said Bulldogs head coach Rick Martinez. “It’s hard keeping the kids on edge, but we’ve said the same thing all year. We feel we’re our biggest enemy. We feel if we go out and execute the victories will come.
“We know (Waterford) isn’t going to come lay down for us. Our kids know that. We have to execute to win.”
This is the fifth time Hilmar has faced a team twice in a season in the past 11 years. The Yellowjackets are 2-2 in the rematches, including 1-2 against Escalon. All four of the previous rematches have taken place in section title games.
The team that lost the first game has come back to win the second game on all four occasions.
“I’ve been doing this for about 25 years,” Escalon head coach Mark Loureiro said. “This has probably happened about 10 times. I feel the guy that lost has the advantage. Revenge is a good motivation. I’ve been on the other side, too, and it seems like you’re always tight. There’s more pressure on you. I’d rather be the chaser than the one being chased.”
Hilmar won the first matchup against Escalon 28-14 on Oct. 25.
Loureiro feels there are things his team can do better tonight.
“I don’t think you’re going to see either team change a lot,” he said. “Both programs have a lot of respect for each other. We’ve got to contain their quarterback (Jonathan O’Brien). We have to do a better job of keeping him in the pocket. We have to eliminate our mistakes. We played pretty good down there, but we had four crucial penalties in key spots.”
Marques likes the idea of going against a great coach like Loureiro, who has led the Cougars to 16 straight quarterfinal appearances and brings a 257-48 career record into tonight’s game.
“That’s exciting about the matchup, it’s a great mind game,” said Marques, who has compiled a 102-27 record in his 11 seasons as the Yellowjackets coach. “This is an opportunity to go against the best. It challenges you. Our whole coaching staff is excited. I believe he is the best coach in the area.”
Marques feels his team has struggled the last two weeks. The Yellowjackets led only 3-0 against Hughson at halftime before winning 31-6 in the final game of the regular season. Last week No. 15 seed Liberty Ranch (6-5) led Hilmar 14-7 at half before the Yellowjackets won 31-17.
It was the first time Hilmar has trailed at halftime since Dos Palos led the Yellowjackets 7-6 in the second game of the season.
“It’s kind of like tuning a piano,” Marques said. “The piano still plays well but it needs some fine tuning. I actually think us losing at halftime was a good thing last week. We got to see the character of this team. I didn’t know we would respond. It was a great learning experience.”
Sun-Star staff writer Shawn Jansen can be reached at (209) 385-2462 or email@example.com.