Ben Hood and Christian May made sure that nobody will be talking about the year Escalon lost the first two games to start the season after the Cougars defeated Pacheco 35-33 in Los Banos on Friday.
Trailing 33-29 with 3.3 seconds left, Hood took the snap at the Pacheco 30-yard line and rolled right, where defensive end Hunter Mendez was waiting for him. Hood planted and changed direction, scrambling to his left, and launch a hail Mary before crossing the line of scrimmage.
May reached the goal line and looked back to see Hood scrambling, and set off across the end zone, reaching Hood’s pass with a dive.
“It was slow motion. The ball was in the air for, like, 10 minutes, I swear,” May said. “I didn’t want to drop it. He told me to sell the slant part and go to the back of the end zone, and if he had no one to pass to he would just throw the ball to me.”
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The pass ended a back-and-forth contest that Pacheco led most of the way. Panther running backs Frank Ginda and Moffat Teneng looked to be the night’s heroes when they led Pacheco on a 13-play, 67-yard drive that Teneng kept alive with a 5-yard run on fourth-and-2, and Ginda finished with a 2-yard dive into the end zone.
The drive left Escalon just 48.2 seconds to mount the winning drive.
“We replaced 18 starters (this year), and I’m proud of these kids the way they fought,” Escalon coach Mark Loureiro said. “They could have quit the whole second half, so we matured big-time today.”
May finished with 88 receiving yards — 70 of them on Escalon’s last two touchdowns — and 11 rushes for 55 yards. Hood completed 6 of 9 passes for 129 yards after attempting just one pass in the first half.
Teneng kept the Pacheco offense going, finishing with 16 carries for 144 yards, while Pacheco quarterback Juwan Epperson completed 10 of 16 passes for 161 yards and no interceptions, along with 6 rushes for 50 yards.
Escalon’s offense looked sluggish in its opening-week loss to Los Banos, and struggled early against Pacheco, compiling just 71 yards of offense at halftime. By contrast, Epperson alone had more yards at the break, with 109 passing yards and 45 rushing.
“We talked about taking control of the line of scrimmage and getting the defense off the field,” Loureiro said. “In other words, we can’t play defense all night, and move the chains and the clocks, and we did a little bit there.
“We got a little momentum, just how they got momentum in the second quarter.”
Escalon took a 7-0 lead on its first drive on a Frankie Bavarro touchdown run, and Pacheco had a delayed answer, putting up 19 unanswered points in the second quarter — started by a 31-yard Teneng run on fourth-and-6 where he took the handoff, stepped toward the edge, then cut inside two defenders racing to cut him off. Nobody touched him before he hit the end zone.
Pacheco’s other scores came on a 22-yard Epperson scramble and a 20-yard Epperson pass to Adam Perez, a play almost exactly like the Hood-to-May pass that ended the game.
Coming off a last-minute 16-13 win over Selma in its Week 0 opener, Pacheco responded after a 40-yard Hood-to-May pass put Escalon on top 29-26 with 4:47 remaining. The Panthers put together a long, Escalon-esque drive that consisted of 10 running plays with a few passes scattered here and there.
But despite taking up almost four minutes, the drive left just enough time for Escalon to put a mark in the win column.
“A lot of people are going to put a lot of pressure on this program, because we’ve been winning forever, and you know as well as I know that at public schools, that usually doesn’t happen,” Loureiro said. “You have to take the good with the bad, and all of a sudden, here we are. This is a big win for us, for our confidence. We had to get one here, and hopefully, this will mature us and get us going a little bit.”