As he sat on the team bus, feeling rather relieved from another close win, Turlock High football coach James Peterson overheard his players’ conversations. He liked what came out of their mouths.
“I heard guys talking Atwater High School,” he said.
He wouldn’t have minded if they were discussing last Friday night’s 27-24 win over Golden Valley High, in which the Bulldogs won in the final seconds on a Sean Downs touchdown, but he was glad they were focused on what was ahead, as the team bus roared down Highway 99 toward Turlock in complete darkness.
The topic of the conversation: Remember what happened last year?
In late-October 2010, the Bulldogs were riding high on confidence. At that point, they were 7-1 with their only loss coming against eventual Central California Conference champion Buhach Colony High on a last-second missed field goal. At that point, they were proud of their accomplishments, having one of the best turnaround seasons in state history after a 0-10 disappointment the previous year.
At that point, they were about to face a winless Atwater High team. This was an automatic win, the Bulldogs thought. They thought wrong, as the Falcons upset Turlock 17-10 for their only win of the season.
This time, the Bulldogs said, will be different.
Turlock (6-2, 2-1 CCC) and Atwater (4-4, 1-2 CCC) will meet again this Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Debely Stadium, the Bulldogs’ first home game in four weeks. However, Turlock will have to play without Downs, who suffered a season-ending collarbone injury late in the Golden Valley win.
“We’re definitely not going to come in with our heads full, like we did last year,” multi-purpose junior Da’Shawn Holcombe said. “We gotta come in like any other game — play hard until the end.”
That attitude was evident last Friday night. The Bulldogs fell behind 18-13 at halftime against the Cougars, but a Brandon Esquivel 2-yard touchdown run narrowed the deficit to 24-19 in the third quarter. Then, Downs hit Bradli Badali on a third-down conversion late in the game before Downs streaked down the sideline, where he hurt his collarbone after a late hit. The play gave the Bulldogs the ball at the 1-yard line.
Later, Downs scored the game-winning TD. He finished with 15 rushes for 124 yards, though he also did some work in the air — completing 6-for-15 passes for 116 yards and a TD pass to Badali. Esquivel, who will replace Downs this Friday at quarterback, had 16 carries for 84 yards.
The Turlock defense also stood out. Erick Parsons had 12 tackles, Esquivel and Holcombe collected nine tackles apiece, Kyle Hatcher and Omar Flores finished with a sack apiece and Badali and Parsons each had an interception.
By even with those numbers, the Bulldogs didn’t celebrate their win over Golden Valley for long on the team bus. Atwater, which put up 35 points in a close loss to Pitman High (7-1, 2-1 CCC) last Friday, was up next.
“There’s no slouch in the CCC,” Peterson said. “There’s not a team that you’re going to run over.”
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