The Turlock High School football team was able to stifle the offense of former and future league rival Modesto High School during Friday night’s game at Joe Debely Stadium, securing a 14-7 victory and .500 record for the Bulldogs as they head into Central California Conference play next week.
It was the first matchup between the Bulldogs and Panthers since it was officially announced in March that the San-Joaquin Section would be realigned, bringing Turlock and Pitman High School out of the CCC and into the Modesto Metro Conference, along with Modesto, Downey, Gregori and Enochs.
As a charter member of the CCC along with Modesto back in 1957, the rivalry between the Bulldogs and Panthers goes back 60 years and continued onto the field Friday night. Now, it will continue for years to come as the two schools face off in league play beginning next year.
“To me, a rivalry game should be exactly like this game was tonight,” said Turlock head coach James Peterson. “Both sides were making great plays, and Modesto did an outstanding job zoning in on our key players.”
Each team put on strong defensive performances, especially in the second half, where no points were allowed by either squad. In the end, Turlock’s two touchdowns in the first quarter – a two-yard run from Mark Flores in the game’s first few minutes and a leaping, nine-yard grab from quarterback Jonah Kosakiewicz to tight end Cameran Sherwood with two minutes left – proved to be too much for the lone touchdown the Bulldogs allowed.
Modesto scored their only seven points of the game on a rare mishap by Turlock’s defense, where Panther quarterback Norvale Howard evaded half of the Bulldog defenders on a broken play and was able to complete a 79-yard touchdown pass to running back Chris Styles.
Despite Modesto’s touchdown, Turlock came back from the locker room after the half with one goal in mind, according to safety Gabriel Cordero.
“The one thing we practiced all week was holding them to the minimum amount of points they can have. If you let the offense score only one touchdown a game, there’s no way they can beat you,” he said.
Cordero finished the game with four sacks, but was just one piece to a defense that worked together to force four turnovers in the second half. One of those was a fumble recovery from Cordero, and both Lance Couchman and Jordan Porter ended the game with an interception each – Porter’s picked in the final seconds of the game to secure the Bulldogs’ victory.
“The guys are playing great team defense,” said Peterson. “Everybody is contributing. We struggle sometimes late in the game and allow some long drives, but usually our guys come through and we end up with a pick or turnover. You saw that tonight, which really helped us stay in the game.
Turlock’s Jake Dirkse and Michael Jeffus each finished the game with a sack as well, and on the offensive end of the game, running backs Mark Flores and Tyler Etharidge led the charge. Flores finished with 39 rushing yards and one touchdown, while Etharidge rushed for 109 yards.
The win gives the Bulldogs a record of 2-2 as they look ahead to Buhach Colony High School for the beginning of league play next Friday – momentum for the defending CCC champs that Peterson described as “huge.”
The Bulldogs will take on the Thunder at Dave Honey Stadium in Atwater next week, with kickoff at 7 p.m. As CCC play begins, Cordero has one prediction.
“If we start the winning streak now, we’re going undefeated during CCC,” he said. “I predict it right now.”