Friday night didn’t end the way football fans in Escalon or Oakdale had imagined – or hoped – as both previously undefeated teams took their first, and final, losses of the season in their respective Section title games.
As disappointing as it was for fans and as gut-wrenchingly painful as it was for players and their coaches (not to mention the team parents) there is still one word that springs to mind quickly when thinking of these stellar local teams: pride.
Both the Cougars and the Mustangs played their games with class and finesse and put all they had into their final contest. We have come to expect nothing less of our athletes and coaches and they rarely let us down. Maybe that’s not fair, in a way; when they have so much success, we almost demand it of them. To their credit, the players and coaches do their very best to make sure they bring those wins that everybody wants.
Even with the losses, Oakdale to Del Oro and Escalon to Hilmar, they still did not ‘let us down.’ I have covered the Escalon Cougars football team every Friday night since the end of August. Ike Dodson has done virtually the same with Oakdale and the two of us spend a fair amount of time on Mondays discussing the previous Friday’s game. We also kept each other updated via text messages during our games throughout the course of the season.
For me, as closely associated as I am with the Cougars, there was certainly some sadness for the guys as their last gasp drive fell short and Hilmar got its revenge in a 20-17 victory on Dec. 2 to win the Section IV title. Watching senior Josh Miguel console junior Alec Von Alvensleben while the Yellowjackets buzzed around the field in celebration was a poignant moment I won’t soon forget. But it was more just an overwhelming immense feeling of pride for what this team has accomplished over the past two years – the longest winning streak in the state – a 2010 California State Championship, a 13-0 run this year before the final game loss, two Trans-Valley league titles and the 2010 Section crown. Late game heroics, monstrous individual efforts and guys who exuded sheer joy at just being able to be on the field every Friday night. When you play for the love of the game, it makes those wins more special, those losses more devastating. But one win or one loss does not define a team. The Cougars were there for each other, supportive, cohesive, and the lessons learned on the football field can easily be translated into life. You will not win every time. But that doesn’t mean you don’t give it your best.
Even though I don’t cover the Mustangs, I know enough Oakdale kids and parents of players to keep up and the same holds true for them; they eat, sleep and breathe football. Early morning conditioning, summer time spent in the weight room, dedication; it’s all a design for living that will serve them well even after their time on the gridiron is done.
Nothing can take away the hurt of that final game loss for this year’s seniors. Just like nothing can take away the elation of a big win. It’s all part of the experience and is just a small piece of the pie that is life.
Take a look at Riverbank: their success is more on the cross country course and soccer field than football at this time of year, but the football Bruins had a new coach, a new attitude and put some wins on the books – something to build on and definitely a great memory for the Class of 2012.
The funny thing is that many of those football players that shed tears at midfield as they watched their opponents celebrate on Friday night are right now already back at work, some getting ready for their first wrestling match of the season, some hitting the hardwood to work on their 3-point shot or free throws.
Sports go on. Life goes on.
To all the members of the Cougar and Mustang varsity football teams, you have a lot to be proud of. Thank you for a wonderful, exciting, memorable, successful season.
Marg Jackson is editor of The Escalon Times and The Oakdale Leader and assistant editor for The Riverbank News. She may be reached at email@example.com or by calling 847-3021.