After the final whistle blew, several members of the Turlock High football team were searching for a special object.
“Where’s that trophy?” one Bulldog asked.
Another Bulldog said, “I wanna kiss that thing.”
Yes, a year can make a huge difference. Around this time last year, the Bulldogs quietly went to their locker room, changed and disappeared into the night. On Friday night, they couldn’t hide their delight after beating crosstown rival Pitman High 21-16 in the seventh annual Harvest Bowl at Joe Debely Stadium in front of 5,000 fans.
This is just the second time the Bulldogs have won in the series. That might explain why some of the Turlock players wanted a piece of that Harvest Bowl trophy. But even so, there were plenty of other reasons to celebrate.
The Bulldogs (8-2 overall) finished the regular season with a 3-2 record in the Central California Conference, enough for a second-place tie with the Pride (7-3 overall). The win also gave Turlock home-field advantage in the first round of next week’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs, with the bracket expected to be released today.
After owning only a 7-3 halftime lead over Pitman, Turlock stumbled upon a game-changing moment. It was third-and-17 when senior Ricky Fuentes (12 rushes, 76 yards) drew a pass interference call to move the ball to the Pitman 12. On the next play, quarterback Kevin Kramer ran it in for a score to give the Bulldogs a 14-3 advantage.
Shortly after that, junior defensive back Bradli Badali intercepted an AJ Derr pass for a 17-yard touchdown.
By then, it gave the Bulldogs a 21-3 lead.
“What a momentum turn,” Turlock coach James Peterson said. “We read it all the way. I saw him (Badali) read the quarterback from the drop and he got a good angle on it.”
Things looked bleak for the Pride, who walked back toward the sideline with slumped shoulders. But then Pitman running back Mario Aguirre marched in from 6 yards out to cut the Turlock edge down to 21-10 with 8:19 left in the game.
After that, Pitman’s Derr engineered a final drive that was highlighted by a 45-yard toss to David Gianesin that set up a 5-yard touchdown run by Jaime Lemus. Pitman was down 21-16 with 20 seconds left before an unexpected Turlock defender stepped in.
Kramer, the Bulldogs quarterback. He hadn’t been a legit defender since he was 9 years old, he said. But he managed to tackle Andres Mendez on a 2-point conversion run before Kramer fell on the ball during Pitman’s attempt at an onside kick.
“Whatever I can do to make this team win,” said Kramer, who completed 4-for-11 passes for 87 yards and had 61 yards rushing, “I’ll do it.”
His night also included a 48-yard bomb to Tyler Cook in the first quarter to give the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead. The Pride answered back with a 29-yard field goal by Quinton Breshears to have a manageable deficit before halftime.
But the ending was inevitable for a Turlock team that went 0-10 last season and suffered a 34-point blowout in the 2009 Harvest Bowl. So this season’s rivalry win — which coincided with the regular season finale for the first time — meant a big deal to the Bulldogs, with some of them wanting to know where the Harvest Bowl trophy went.
No one exactly knew where it went after the game, but they’ll have an entire year to look for it.
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