Moments after the horn sounded to end Turlock High’s 2022 football season, middle linebacker Owen Miller sought out head coach James Peterson at midfield and began plotting out the 2023 campaign.
“Next year we’re winning it,” Miller could be heard confidently telling his coach after the seventh-seeded Bulldogs’ 24-0 loss to No. 3 Oak Ridge in the semifinals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs.
“It starts tomorrow,” implored Peterson. “After baseball (season), you’re mine.”
Though Turlock’s offense was virtually unstoppable last week in its improbable 51-50 upset of second-seeded and previously unbeaten St. Mary’s, it did next to nothing against the Trojans (10-2). Senior quarterback Cole Gilbert accounted nearly 500 yards of total offense in the upset win. Against, Oak Ridge, the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder completed 10 of 26 passes for 138 yards, while rushing for just 11 yards.
The Trojans advance to the section title game where they’ll face Sierra Foothill League foe Folsom, the No. 1 team in the D-I bracket. Folsom (11-1) advanced with a 55-27 win over No. 5 Central Catholic (8-5).
Folsom defeated Oak Ridge 42-13 when they meet to open SFL play on Sept. 30 in El Dorado Hills.
“Before they beat St. Mary’s last week, we knew Turlock was a good team,” said Oak Ridge coach Casey Taylor, who won six section titles during his time at Del Oro and another as coach of Capital Christian. “That’s a good team and we have a lot of respect for them.”
This marked the third time that Turlock High’s postseason came to end at the hands of the Trojans, having lost to them in the second round in 2018 and 2019.
“I told you last week during practice that we were pretty banged up coming out of the St. Mary’s game,” said Peterson. “I’m not making excuses, but it’s tough enough to win when you’re completely healthy. But I”m really proud of the guys. Everybody was counting us out and we went from not qualifying for the playoffs at one point in the season, all the way to the semifinals.
“We’re going for it next year.”
Whether it was nerves or the cold or being too high after last week’s upset win, the Bulldogs were out of sorts early on.
“We have a really good defense,” said Taylor. “We knew if we could get pressure on them, we could slow them down.”
Oak Ridge senior quarterback Maddox Varella hit Kaleb Edwards on a 35-yard TD pass on their first possession, then Varella hit Sebastian Sutton on a 36-yard hook-up three and a half minutes later to make it 14-0 with 5:50 to play in the opening stanza.
The Bulldogs’ first possession ended via interception, then they punted on their next four possessions.
But Turlock’s defense stiffened. After allowing a 34-yard field goal by Carson Nichols that made it 17-0, the ’Dogs twice forced the Trojans to turn the ball over on downs and forced a punt on a third possession.
Turlock’s last drive of the first half started on its own 45 with 5:09 left on the clock. The Bulldogs drove to the 5, but were unable to punch it in, turning the ball over on downs with 9 seconds remaining in the half.
A touchdown there would’ve shaved the deficit to 10 and, with Turlock getting the kickoff to open the second half, the momentum would’ve tipped in Turlock’s favor.
The Trojans scored on their first possession of the second half — Jake Hall (15 carries, 72 yards) burst into the end zone from 3 yards out — to end the competitive phase of the contest and leaving plenty of time to think about next season.
“We’ve got a lot of starters returning next year,” said Miller. “We have a legit chance to be back here next year. I have no doubts about next year.”