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After 0-3 start to season, there's no panic in Turlock's Peterson
Turlock football
Turlock High football has yet to win a game this season, but according to Coach James Peterson, the tough pre-league schedule will be worth the heartache (Journal file photo).

Turlock High’s football team fell to 0-3 last week after a 21-18 loss at Fresno’s Central High, a program that won the state’s Division 1-AA title in 2019.

And there exists the very real possibility that the Bulldogs will be 0-5 heading into their Central California Athletic League opener against Gregori (Modesto) on Sept. 28.

But worry not, fans of the Blue and Gold. There’s a method to coach James Peterson’s madness.

The teams Turlock has played, or will play, this preseason — Rocklin, Clovis West (Fresno), Central (Fresno), Folsom and Clayton Valley Charter (Concord) — are a veritable Who’s Who of powerhouses in Northern California football.

Let’s break it down, team by team:

* Rocklin — The Thunder reached the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 championship game in 2021, falling to Folsom, the preeminent program in the entire section over the past decade.

* Clovis West — The Golden Eagles reached the Central Section’s semifinal round last season before bowing out to San Joaquin Memorial (Easton).

* Central — The Grizzlies capped a perfect 15-0 season with that state title four years ago.

* Folsom —The Bulldogs have won nine section championships in the past 12 seasons, and state 1-AA titles in 2018 and 2017. They also own a win over mighty De La Salle during that span.

* Clayton Valley Charter — Won the state’s Division 2-AA title in 2019.

This Friday, the Bulldogs entertain 2-1 Folsom, ranked No. 1 in the Sac-Joaquin Section and second in Northern California by

Folsom, also nicknamed the Bulldogs, suffered its only loss of the season Aug. 26 to Serra (San Mateo), the top-ranked NorCal team that has advanced to the CIF’s Open Division championship game the past two seasons.

It’s clear that Peterson isn’t scheduling the Little Sisters of the Poor just to pad THS’ record and inflate his players’ confidence.

“It’s the pressure cooker,” said Peterson, now in his 15th season as the Bulldogs’ head coach. “This schedule is designed to get us better for league, and to show these boys where they need to be come playoff time. These are the types of teams that we’re going to see late in the season.”

It’s the same method that Roger Canepa, head coach of Central Catholic High School, has used successfully during his tenure in Modesto. This was never more evident than last season when St. John Bosco (Bellflower), then the No. 1 team in the nation, called and asked if the Raiders had an open date. They did, and Canepa accepted the challenge. 

Only trouble was, CC already had games scheduled against St. Francis (Mountain View), St. Mary’s (Stockton) and Serra (San Mateo).

It was a gauntlet like no other Central Valley team has ever faced.

The Raiders came out of that stretch with four losses by an average score of 47-16. The St. Francis game was close (35-28), while the Bosco game was not (65-0). Still, the games served their purpose.

“The biggest mistake anybody could make about our team is that we’re not very good,” said Canepa, heading into the Valley Oak League portion of his 2022 schedule.

The Raiders went undefeated in the VOL, overcoming 400 yards rushing and seven touchdowns from Florida State-bound Blake Nichelson to beat Manteca 56-49, and reaching the section’s D-1 semifinals just as Turlock did last season. The tough preseason schedule obviously paid dividends.

Peterson is hoping for the same. His schedule this year is nearly identical to the 2022 version, swapping out Manteca for Folsom — a change that makes the Bulldogs’ 2023 preseason slate one of the toughest in Northern California.

“It paid off last year, right?” said Peterson, referring to last year’s upset of the top seed in the second round. “We had the game against St. Mary’s, and everybody was counting us out. We played with those guys snap for snap.”