Week 1: Hilltop Lancers 45, Escondido Cougars 42

The Escondido Cougars learned Friday night that big plays and lots of scoring isn’t always quite enough to win, as Escondido fell in its season-opener to the Hilltop Lancers 45-42 at Escondido’s Wilson Stadium.

In a re-match of the 2018 season opener, the Lancers (1-0) traveled north to Escondido and snagged a victory from a see-saw battle with a tale worth nearly 90 points. Escondido’s quick 14-0 lead — earned on two runs from senior running back Matt Malone totaling about 100 yards — didn’t last long as Hilltop tenaciously fought to stay in the game, to take the lead in the second quarter, and to win after allowing the Cougars (0-1) to regain the lead for a short time in the fourth quarter. Malone would add to his list of big plays in the third quarter with his third touchdown of the game, on a 72-yard run, but it wouldn’t be enough to overtake a Hilltop offense that refused to quit.

That offense, led by quarterback Javin Deanda, turned to the pass much more often than Escondido, first proving beneficial after an early field goal when Deanda connected with receiver Lai Zumstein on what can be described as nothing less than a pretty touchdown pass early in the second quarter. Add Jeremiah Serrano’s 50-yard sprint into the endzone on the team’s next drive, and the Lancers were looking at a 15-14 lead. Hilltop’s three missed attempts at 2-point conversions in the first half kept this one a nail-biter to the end.

The fourth quarter proved to be the deciding factor. After the cougars briefly regained the lead on an 8-yard touchdown run from junior running back Dominic Fabela, the Lancers snatched the lead back one last time on a quick run up the middle at the goal line — courtesy once more of Serrano — sending Hilltop home with a much-easier-to-handle hour-long drive to Chula Vista than what nearly was.

The Cougars will stay at home in Week 2 as Escondido hosts cross-town rival Orange Glen, while the Lancers will again be on the road facing Lakeside’s El Capitan in East County. Catch highlights for those and other games next Friday on the PPR at 11 p.m.

PREVIEW — A year ago, the Hilltop Lancers hosted the Escondido Cougars in Week 1 of the 2018 season, lost convincingly (31-20) in a relatively offensive game, and went on to outperform the Cougars as the season progressed, only to fall short against Morse in the first round of the CIF San Diego Section Division III playoffs. All the while, Escondido never made it past the regular season a year ago, wrapping up its season with a 3-7 overall record.

While a new season has not necessarily brought a new jersey to face opposite that 50-yard-line for these two teams, they are undoubtedly different teams. The Lancers enter this 2019 season ranked slightly higher than a year ago, jumping 25 spots in the MaxPreps state rankings to No. 514. The Cougars, meanwhile, leapt light years in comparison, rising to No. 344 from last season’s rank of No. 521.

Expect this early-season, non-league match-up to be a chance to see where these two teams seeking to build from a year ago really stand. It’s quite the trek from southern Chula Vista to Escondido, and while being on the road against a team that currently and substantially outranks you, and which defeated you a year ago on your home turf doesn’t seem for Hilltop to be a recipe for a “W,” this one looks like it’ll have to be played out before any opinions are drawn.

Catch highlights from this and dozens of other games around San Diego County Friday night on KUSI’s Prep Pigskin Report starting at 11 p.m.

Categories: This Week’s Games