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And let the league battles begin

The non-conference portion of the high school football season is in the rear-view mirror. And following byes this Friday night, Turlock and Pitman will dive into Central California Athletic League action the following week, while Hilmar and Hughson will get started in the Trans-Valley League on Sept. 29.

Denair started Southern League action last Friday, while Turlock Christian, playing eight-man football this season, is not affiliated with a conference.

With that in mind, let’s examine what we’ve learned about each team at the midway point of the season.

Turlock (0-5) — It’s tough to get a read on the winless Bulldogs, with blowout losses to Rocklin, Clovis West (Fresno) and Folsom, and narrow defeats to Central (Fresno) and Clayton Valley Charter (Concord).

But this much we do know: These ’Dogs have has grit, as evidenced in last week’s 21-14 loss to CVC.

Trailing by two touchdowns less than 13 minutes into the contest, Turlock easily could’ve packed it in and accepted its fate. Instead, the Bulldogs picked themselves off the ground and proceeded to outplay the Ugly Eagles the rest of the way. 

Sure, the 0-5 record is ugly, but head coach James Peterson’s troops are battle-tested heading into CCAL action. Perhaps more than any other team in Northern California.

Next: The Bulldogs open CCAL play on a Thursday, Sept. 28, at Gregori.

Pitman (1-4) — After posting a 2-8 record in 2022 and losing A-listers Joey Stout (RB), Drew Walker (QB) and Dylan Freeman (WR) to graduation, one had to wonder where the Pride’s offensive production would come from this year. Quarterback Andrew Azevedo, running back Matthew Burciaga and receiver Lawson Aviles have been a pleasant surprise this season, helping PHS be competitive in three of their five contests.

Like their crosstown rival, the Pride have benefited from a tough preseason schedule that consisted of Cosumnes Oaks (Elk Grove), Golden Valley and TVL representatives Hilmar and Hughson. 

Next: The Pride will host two-time defending CCAL champ Downey on Sept. 29.

Hilmar (3-2) — The reigning Trans-Valley league champions are young, and have shown their youth at various times this season. Having said that, the Yellowjackets were 1-3 heading into TVL action last season and went on to win the league title. Hilmar will be hard pressed to duplicate 2022’s 6-0 run through its TVL slate, with Hughson and Escalon — each won state championships — seemingly improved from a year ago.

Next: The Yellowjackets host Livingston on Sept. 29.

Hughson (4-1) — The Huskies flew under the radar for much of 2022 on their way to the state 5-AA championship. This year, they’ve had a target on their back since Week 1. Downey High, a Division 2 team, celebrated as if it won the Super Bowl after hanging on to beat Downey 19-13. In that game, Downey led 19-0 before Hughson nearly pulled off the comeback. It proved they’re big enough and fast enough and talented enough to play with any school in their weight class.

Next: The Huskies play host to Escalon on Sept. 29 — a rare matchup between defending state champions.

Denair (1-2) — The Coyotes have a roster of just 17 players this year, so staying healthy is the main concern at this point. But as one coach in the region told me, Denair is always well coached with a solid game plan, and that’s due to head coach Anthony Armas, who led the team to a state championship in 2018.

The road ahead is full of potholes for the Coyotes, but you can bet they’ll be a headache for a number of Southern League teams.

Next: Denair travels to face Gustine this Friday night at 7:15 p.m.

Turlock Christian (1-1) — After losing their first game by 48 points, then winning their second by 72, it’s hard to gauge where the Eagles land on the eight-man-football spectrum. They play their third game of the season — and final home game — on Saturday. After that, it’s four road games to close the season, with an average distance of 180 miles. 

Next: The Eagles entertain Kern Resource Center this Saturday at 4 p.m.