The Bulldogs of Turlock High School came into Friday night’s matchup against the Grizzlies of Central High (Fresno) with much to prove after suffering a 48-0 loss to Clovis West last week. Though the Bulldogs gave the Grizzlies a run for their money in the first half, a relentless Central offense pulled away in the second half to grab a 54-41 win.
Central began their offensive attack immediately, driving 70 yards on the very first possession. The drive was capped off by a 21-yard rushing touchdown from running back Michael James to give the visiting team a 7-0 lead.
Following empty possessions by both teams, the Bulldogs finally responded late in the first quarter when quarterback Cole Gilbert found tight end Joshua Weatherbee for a 9-yard touchdown, tying the game at 7. But the tie would not last long as Central’s Braylen Hall returned the ensuing kickoff 72 yards for a touchdown, making it a 13-7 game.
After a three and out by the Bulldog offense, Central threatened to score again, but on 4th and inches at the Turlock 22-yard line, Turlock defensive end Logan Durkee forced his way into the backfield to make a stellar stop and give the Bulldogs possession. Three plays later, Gilbert would find wide receiver Jeremiah Bertalotto for a 40-yard touchdown, giving the Bulldogs their first lead of the game.
Once again, the Grizzlies came back determined, driving 90 yards on their next possession to grab a 19-14 lead on a quarterback sneak by Dayton Tafoya.
The back-and-forth affair continued as the Bulldogs responded on the very next drive with Gilbert rushing for a 1-yard touchdown of his own. A successful two-point conversion gave the home team a 22-19 lead with 57 seconds left to play in the half.
With limited time remaining, Turlock head coach James Peterson and his coaching staff decided to roll the dice on an onside kick. After being successfully recovered by the Central special teams unit, Tafoya and his offense quickly found themselves in the red zone. With 30 seconds left, Tafoya launched three passes into the endzone, all in which fell incomplete thanks to timely defense by Isaiah Bertalotto and J.T. Foreman II. As time expired, Tafoya tested Foreman in the endzone again, this time with the Bulldog star intercepting the pass to send the game to halftime.
“It was really a great first half for us,” Peterson said. “Our defense was holding and we got into a really good offense once we got a rhythm going. We started moving the ball well with a good balance of run and pass.”
Nevertheless, facing a 22-19 deficit at halftime, the Grizzlies came out of the locker room firing on all cylinders. Starting their first possession of the half deep in their own territory, Tafoya drove his team down the field and capped the drive off by finding wide receiver Daylon Scott for a 14-yard touchdown, regaining the lead at 26-22. After an empty Turlock offensive possession, Tafoya struck again, launching a 34-yard touchdown to wide receiver Noel Felix III, increasing the Central lead to 33-22.
The Bulldogs wouldn’t go down without a fight, though. On the following possession, Foreman broke loose for a 40-yard run to set up another Gilbert rushing touchdown. The Turlock two-point conversion attempt was no-good, leaving the deficit at 33-28.
But the score would not faze Tafoya and the Central offense, as he responded with another deep strike, this time a 32-yard touchdown pass to Hall as time expired in the third quarter, making it a 40-28 game. After a Turlock turnover on downs, Tafoya continued his aerial attack by tossing an 8-yard touchdown to wideout Ladanian Streets. Following another Turlock turnover on downs, Tafoya and Streets connected again for a 24-yard score.
“I just think it was a long game and we ran out of gas,” Peterson said. “We had a few DB’s down and it was really tough on our back end tonight. They have a really tough receiving core and obviously Tafoya can throw the ball unlike anybody I’ve seen in a long time, so hats off to them.”
After it was all said and done, Tafoya racked up 351 passing yards and scored six total touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Turlock was able to grab extra points as the clock dwindled down with touchdown receptions from Alex Velasquez and J. Bertalotto, making it a 54-41 game as the scoreboard showed zeros.
“It was a tough game, but our guys don’t quit,” Peterson said. “We kept playing tonight and our offense scored enough points to be able to win this game, the defense just needed to do their part. And it’s on me since I coach on the defensive side. We just need to play better if we want to win the big games like this one.”
Peterson and his staff will look to bounce back from the loss next week when they take on the Buffaloes of Manteca High. The matchup will be featured as the Turlock Journal’s Blitz Game of the Week.