ESCALON-Moments after the Calaveras Redskins lost to Escalon on Friday, they huddled together in the endzone.
After their huddle, the players shared tears, hugs and handshakes.
"This senior season meant everything," said Redskin co-captain Joe Elliott. "I didn't do much my junior year because I was sick and injured. I tried to make the most of my senior year and I think I did. We all worked hard. I love these guys. They're not quitters, we just got beat tonight. Escalon came out solid and finished solid. They're a good team and we didn't step up."
The No. 9 Redskins season ended with a 44-14 loss to the No. 8 Cougars in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV Championships.
"This was a great season," said Redskin senior lineman Noah Shelgren. "Overall, we didn't win league, but we weren't expected to win more than a few games, at least in the preseason. We had a great group of guys and a lot of injuries all year. I love each and every one of these guys and I couldn't be happier with the team and season we had."
The Redskins finished with an 8-3 overall record, including 4-1 in the Mother Lode League, good for second place. Calaveras made the postseason for the 16th straight season, but ran into its playoff nemesis in the first round. The teams have met 10 times in postseason and the Cougars, who have been to playoffs for 15 years-in-a-row, own eight wins.
Escalon did to Calaveras what it does to almost everybody. It deployed a physical rushing attack and controlled the line of scrimmage.
The Cougars scored on their first drive, taking 5:30 minutes off the clock to lead 7-0 and never looked back. The Cougars scored again just before the quarter ended to take go up 13-0.
And then the dam broke and the Cougars pulled away with three TDs in the span of 1:39. Everything that could go wrong for Calaveras did.
"We never had the momentum," said Redskin head coach Jason Weatherby. "We had a couple of dropped balls early in the game which clearly changed things. They (Cougars) were pounding the ball at us. If we could've got an early score, the momentum could have gone our way a little bit and at that point anything could happen. But Escalon is a solid team. They've got a good line and they're physical on defense. They out-physicaled us by a longshot."
The Redskins got on the scoreboard late in the first half.
Quarterback Zack Johnson rolled to his right, then threw back left to senior tight end Brian Golston in the flat. Golston turned, headed upfield and into the endzone for a 17-yard score.
The TD capped an 8-play, 62-yard drive that featured a pair of receptions by junior Mike Seawell that gained 39 yards. The second was an acrobatic grab made in traffic after the ball had been tipped by the defense.
In the second half, the Redskins played inspired defense and slowed the Cougar attack, but they couldn't get possession. Calaveras ran just five offensive plays after intermission.
Ahead 37-6 with 3:09 left in the third quarter, Escalon either tried an onside kick or was fortunate on a squib kick. The ball rocketed off a Redskin and right back into Cougar possession.
"The first half we just weren't in it and I don't know why," said Shelgren. "We definitely didn't play as well as we could have. We could have done a whole lot more. We did a little better in the second half. We still gave up some points, but we played better. We battled a lot more."
Redskin running back Kellen Hodgson scored the second touchdown for Calaveras on a 15-yard burst to the outside. Hodgson, as he was heading to the pylon, dove and reached out with his left hand and placed the ball over the goal line.
"This senior group worked really hard," said Weatherby. "We didn't have much size up front and we were playing with broken guys all season. If we could have stayed healthier this season … but we were happy to be here.
"Mikey (Seawell) played a great game. Their receiver who's pretty good, he basically shut him down. He didn't have one deep ball catch. Joe (Elliott) ran the ball hard and fought hard on defense. They had two guys running at him almost every play. So when he was getting to someone, he was hitting them 3 yards downfield. They were able to push us back, but he made a lot of tackles. He played tough. Zack Johnson played great. We catch a few of those balls and who knows. Kellen came up on defense and hit hard. These guys just didn't quit."
"We wanted to see how far we could go this year," said Johnson. "Last year we had a bunch of younger players and starting this year we had high expectations so we were trying to meet those expectations and we did that for the most part. We kind of changed the dynamic of Calaveras football where most of the time we became a pass-heavy team. It was a fun season, I would not ask to play for a better group of guys. I know now, that there's so many guys on this team that 30 years down the road we're gonna still be buddies."