LOS BANOS — One week after pulling off the biggest upset in the history of the football program, Escalon High went out Friday night and established another new standard.
This time, the record they set was for drama, as the Cougars outlasted Los Banos 42-35 in four overtimes in one of the most exciting games in the history of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
Nathan Chunn's fourth touchdown came on a 13-yard swing pass from Phillip Kimble to open the fourth extra session, then Escalon stopped the Tigers on their four plays, a sequence that included two passes to the end zone that tipped off the fingers of Los Banos receivers.
The final play, a fourth-down pass from Chris Corpuz to Markus Rico in the right corner of the end zone, may have been out of bounds even if caught, but that's how close this game was from becoming the Energizer Bunny of playoff matchups.
"The terrible thing was that someone had to lose," said Tigers coach Dustin Caropreso, whose team finished 11-2. "We asked our kids to give us 48 minutes at 110 percent and they went well beyond that."
Next for the Cougars, who reached this level with a stunning victory last week at top-seeded and heavily favored Placer, will be a date for a Division 4 section crown with Central Catholic.
"This game took a lot out of us tonight, but maybe this team has some destiny," said Escalon coach Mark Loureiro. "Now we take on the biggest monster we've ever had. It's a great program, and maybe it's only right that it's Central and Escalon at the end -- the top public against the top private."
Escalon led 14-7 at halftime thanks to two Chunn scores, but the Tigers scored on back-to-back big plays following a controversial sequence to take momentum.
Holding that seven-point lead, the Cougars appeared to have caught a break when Kimble stepped out of bounds before throwing a third-down pass down field that was complete.
As whistles blew, the Escalon receiver absorbed a late hit, drawing a personal foul flag. When Los Banos argued the call, another flag was thrown. Escalon was hoping for 30 yards in penalties to keep the drive going, but both flags were waved off, and the Cougars had to punt.
One play later, Delvonte Moore caught a 35-yard scoring pass from Corpuz to tie the game. Then, after Escalon went three-and-out, James Sams broke off a 73-yard run to give Los Banos a 21-14 lead with 2:17 left in the third quarter.
Sams' run was part of a 162-yard rushing effort that made him the Tigers' all-time leading rusher, passing the mark set by Rodney Percoats in the early 1990s. Percoats was on the sidelines to see his record broken Friday night.
Chunn, already Escalon's all-time single-season top rusher, finished with 121 yards on 26 carries.
"We learn it over and over again that we can never give up," Kimble said. "We have heart. We were up and down tonight, lost all the momentum, but we reached deep down inside and got it all back."
Escalon tied the game when Kimble hit Andrew Zavala on third down from 14 yards out, and Thomas Diniz, who kicked the last-second game-winner in Escalon's two-point win at Placer, drilled the conversion for a 21-21 tie with 3:50 left in the game.
After Escalon recovered a fumble to stop the Tigers' first overtime possession, Diniz had a chance to win the game with a 19-yard field goal, but he pulled it wide left.
Both teams reached the end zone and kicked the conversions in each of the first two overtimes, setting up Escalon's game-winning moment in the fourth extra set of possessions.
And when the fourth-down pass from Corpuz bounced harmlessly away, a large contingent of Escalon students stormed the field, a move they're being asked to perfect in this remarkable postseason run.
"These kids have a lot of heart," Louriero said. "When we graduated everybody last year everybody thought we'd go stale and dead. These kids knock on the door and never quit fighting. That comes from the tradition of the program and this great support."