The Turlock High Bulldogs remain undefeated in league play after their seventh straight win Friday night, edging out a 27-20 victory over the Merced High Bears.
It was the first time the Bulldogs have beaten the Bears since 2011, and both teams came into the contest with 6-2 overall records. Head coach James Peterson said that the Bulldogs prepared for their match against the defending Central California Conference champion Bears with vengeance in mind.
“Merced has had our number the past two years,” said Peterson. “Our mindset tonight was we’re not going to lose a third time, so this is three years of work that just came to fruition tonight.”
It was the Bulldogs that drew first blood as kicker Dallin Tilby sent a 35-yard field goal through the uprights with just under seven minutes left in the first quarter. Turlock’s three points went unanswered until the second quarter, when Merced’s Jacob Foss completed a 10-yard rushing touchdown to make the score 6-3 after a missed point after attempt.
With five minutes to go in the half, Quarterback Danny Velasquez put the lead back in Turlock’s hands thanks to a 55-yard run into the end zone. The Bulldogs scored once again just two minutes later by way of a 29-yard pass to Dustin Grein to make the score 17-6. Velasquez would go on to finish the night with 194 total yards – 106 rushing, 88 passing.
“My offensive line made great blocks, and I saw the hole open up and thought I had to take advantage of it,” said Velasquez of his 55-yard touchdown run. “Opportunities like that don’t come very often against great teams like this.”
Another opportunity came in the beginning of the second half, and once again, Velasquez took advantage of it. The quarterback kept the ball for an 11-yard touchdown run with eight minutes left in the third quarter to give the Bulldogs a 24-6 lead.
The Bears weren’t going down without a fight, and responded to the Bulldogs’ offensive success with a touchdown of their own in the fourth quarter. Foss connected with Tanner Pellissier on an 18-yard touchdown pass, cutting into the Bulldogs’ lead 24-13. Turlock countered Merced’s touchdown with another field goal with three minutes left in the game – this one, a successful 39-yard attempt to make the score 27-13.
Merced was able to scratch one more touchdown into the end zone before the end of the game, but the 19-yard scoring pass from Foss to Stephen Williams wasn’t enough to push them ahead. The final score of the game was 27-20, and for Velasquez, ensuring that the Bears didn’t take yet another CCC title from his team was a long time coming.
“We did take that title away from them, and it feels great,” he said. “I’ve lost two straight championships to Merced and every year it was just horrible. It feels really good to get that monkey off my back.”
The Bulldogs head into next week’s Harvest Bowl matchup undefeated in league play, as will Pitman High. The winner of the Harvest Bowl will be the CCC champions, and although the game is an exciting one for the town, the implications have never been this high.
“This is the first time this has ever happened, and I think it’s an awesome thing for our city,” said Peterson. “League championship and city championship in the same night? It’s awesome.”