Turlock High varsity football will end the season with at least a share of the Central California Conference title after the Bulldogs topped Merced, 23-7, in the penultimate game of the year to keep their perfect league season alive.
“We came out and I expected to get the best game out of Merced, I always expect it, they played outstanding and made it tough for us tonight with the way they are able to spread the field,” said Turlock head coach James Peterson.
Turlock improves to 5-0 in the CCC and 7-2 overall, having won six straight heading into the Harvest Bowl finale with Pitman.
The victory also secures at least a share of the CCC crown just before they leave for the CCAL next season.
Dustin Grein of Turlock was quick to put his team up on the board after he returned an interception for 47-yards in the fifth play of the game, taking it to the house to give his team a 7-0 lead with 9:46 in the opening quarter.
“I think it was big and got the momentum going our way,” said Grein about the pick-six. “We made our team feel like it was going to be a blowout game, but soon as we figured out it would be a fight, we had a talk at halftime and talked together and played Bulldog football in the second half.”
Merced followed up with a nine-play scoring drive that made the game even at 7-7 with 6:09 remaining in the first.
On the ensuing drive, Turlock went on a 14-play drive that ended with a missed field goal but the defense held Merced scoreless in their next drive and forced a punt.
After a back and forth battle on the trenches and multiple punts, Turlock finally got on the board again just before halftime when Dallin Tilby drilled a 47-yard field goal to put his team up 10-7 at halftime.
Turlock went on to outscore Merced 13-0 in the second half, led by a staggering and relentless defensive effort anchored by Grein and Gabriel Cordero.
“Coming in we had a game plan set and so I thought I would be pressuring the quarterback more since he had a quick release so when we came out with the regular defense I assumed I would be rushing,” said Cordero. “I thanked the coaches and I knew I would have a good night.”
Cordero concluded Friday’s game with four sacks and had 10 coming into the game.
Tilby drilled two more field goals from 45 and 36 yards out in the second half while Jonah Kosakiewicz connected with Cam Sherwood from 15-yards out with five minutes left in the third.
Grein also finished the game with two interceptions, including a pick-six and 109 total yards returned after getting the picks.
“It wasn’t a blowout, it was a grind and a dog fight and it was earned,” Cordero added.
Turlock will next host Pitman from Joe Debely Stadium for Harvest Bowl XIV at 7:30 p.m. Friday.