MODESTO — In coach James Peterson’s mind, perhaps as well as in the minds of hundreds of spectators on the visiting side of Downey High’s Hughes Stadium, the game should’ve ended with Sean Downs’ knee softly touching the turf field.
Instead, chaos broke out.
After the Bulldogs emerged out of an early two-touchdown hole, they controlled the ball with a little over a minute left in Saturday night’s nonconference showdown with Modesto High. The Bulldogs, however, coughed up the ball on the opponent 30-yard line, giving the Panthers one final try.
But Modesto blew it, thanks to defensive lineman Johnny Padilla’s near-sack that eventually led to a fumble recovery by Brandon Esquivel to seal the 17-14 win. Now, with 33 seconds left, Downs, Turlock’s sophomore quarterback, kneeled twice to end the night.
“We got lucky,” Esquivel said.
Peterson, his coach, couldn’t disagree, especially after his team’s late-game fumble.
“I think we’re immature. That’s what I think. We don’t understand where we’re at in that ball game at that point,” Peterson said. “All we needed to do was take three more seconds off the clock, get the first down and kneel it out.”
About what caused the fumble, he added, “Our quarterback is reading every zone. He saw the read that he wanted to pull the ball. The fullback was expecting the ball because of the situation. It was a miscue there. We’ll get it wrapped up.”
The Bulldogs (3-1 overall) have this week off, so they’ve had plenty of time to think about the Modesto game while preparing for next week’s nonconference meeting with Franklin High (1-2) of Stockton — which will host Pitman High (4-0) this Friday night.
Modesto struck hard and fast, jumping out to a 14-0 lead with 8 minutes, 39 seconds left in the second quarter. The Bulldogs, however, cut the deficit to 14-10 at the end of the first half after Esquivel’s 13-yard touchdown dive and Aldair Lima’s 33-yard field goal. Turlock, in a span of about 7 minutes, was back in it.
“That shows we have something there,” Peterson said. “We have a lot of character, a lot of heart. Our guys played. They wanted to finish the game.”
Early in the fourth quarter, the Turlock running attack, engineered by Downs, helped the Bulldogs do just that.
Turlock’s eight-play drive — which began late in the third quarter after an interception by Anthony Martin and punctuated by a 16-yard run from Esquivel (nine rushes, 116 yards) and a matching 16-yard dash from Downs — ended when Bryce Simmons stormed in for a 4-yard score to give the Bulldogs the 17-14 lead.
After that, Turlock had to play strong, stick-at-home defense.
With quarterback Iann Miller (18 of 24 passes, 253 yards, one TD) connecting with Brandon Wheeler on three consecutive passes, the Panthers stood just nine yards from the end zone with about 6 minutes left. But the Bulldogs were unmovable, forcing an incompletion, a game-saving sack by Padilla, a very short gain and a missed 30-yard field goal.
After that, the Bulldogs fumbled the ball with a little over a minute left.
The defense stepped up. Padilla got a near sack on Modesto’s final drive. The ball, somehow, floated into the hands of Modesto’s Wheeler, who was quickly tackled around the Turlock 25-yard line, near the sideline. The ball went loose. Esquivel recovered the fumble.
The game was saved.
The way it ended wasn’t as surprising between two old rivals whose history goes back to the 1920s. Last season, the annual meeting ended with Turlock’s Dominic Breshears nailing a late-game field goal to escape with the 24-21 thriller.
“It was probably the craziest game I’ve ever been in,” said Padilla, the game’s defensive star. “It was probably crazier than last year’s Modesto game. It was chaotic.”
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