The Turlock High School Bulldogs made their highly-anticipated return to Joe Debely Stadium Friday night, kicking off the shortened COVID season with a dominant 56-24 victory over Downey High School.
“The biggest thing is the heart. The guys came together as a unit and they rebounded as a unit,” head coach James Peterson said. “They’ve been through a lot of adversity…morale has been down and guys were looking at me just beat up, but tonight was so uplifting and we saw a lot of smiles on faces.
“I know they’re happy about the ‘W’ but it’s really about the hard work they’ve been putting in.”
The team came out strong with an eight-play scoring drive on their first possession, capped by a seven-yard touchdown from senior running back Josiah Gonzales to give the Bulldogs an early 7-0 lead. Following a punt by the Knights and an ensuing interception by Turlock quarterback Cole Gilbert, Downey answered back with a touchdown of their own to tie the game 7-7.
Cole Gilbert split time at the QB position with teammate Dason Evans, who completed a 48-yard pass to Cole’s brother Cade Gilbert on the next possession. Up 14-7 the Bulldogs got the ball back after defensive back JT Foreman II secured an interception. Turlock capitalized on the turnover, with Evans connecting with Logan Hart on an 11-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-7 just before the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter saw the Bulldogs allow an immediate touchdown to Downey, only to answer with a 29-yard touchdown pass from Cole Gilbert to Hart. With Turlock up 28-14, Downey responded with a 23-yard field goal just before halftime.
The referees called a tight game and Turlock’s lack of practice led to 10 penalties called on the Bulldogs in the first half.
“It’s just always little stuff…I’m yelling one of our defenses out and guys are looking at me like, ‘What are you talking about?’” Peterson said. “And I’m like yeah, you’re right. We only covered it for like 20 minutes one day. I get it.”
The second half saw the Bulldogs come out firing, forcing a Knights punt to get the ball back in their hands and let Gonzales rush in for a 50-yard touchdown to make it 35-17. At the end of the third quarter and into the fourth, Turlock tacked on three more scores on three consecutive possessions — a six-yard pass from Cole Gilbert to wide receiver Logan Smith, a five-yard rushing touchdown by Foreman and a four-yard touchdown run by Gilbert.
While Downey was able to notch a touchdown with just two minutes left in the game, the Bulldogs had already pounded the nail into the coffin against the Central California Athletic League rival.
“Coming into this game our mindset was to have good chemistry with our team, play together, play hard, play smart and protect the football,” Cole Gilbert said. “Even though there were a couple slips, I think we came together and executed.”
Cole Gilbert finished the game with 217 passing yards, two passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown. His QB counterpart Evans also had two passing touchdowns on the night.
“Props to him,” Cole Gilbert said of sharing time at QB with Evans. “We definitely put together a show tonight and I just believe that we’re splitting time, but we’re both balling and having a fun time out here through this shortened season, coming together as a family and having fun.”
Gonzales also dazzled on Friday, contributing on defense, special teams and offense with 98 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, including his exciting 50-yard touchdown run.
“He’s just one of those guys. He really is close to my heart as a coach because those are those guys you want. He’s a character guy, he’s an academic guy and then he’s also an outstanding football player, too,” Peterson said of Gonzales. “It’s like, what can’t this guy do?”
For the entire team, the win was the cherry on top of the real prize: playing football again. Next week, they’ll be away against Modesto High School.
“I think this win is going to contribute over. We’ve got the momentum going and our chemistry is definitely there I think we’re going to bring it to Modesto and I think we’re going to be ready,” Cole Gilbert said.
Turlock will next travel to take on Modesto High at Gregori High on March 26.