LIVINGSTON — The Turlock Christian High football players weren’t in the most ideal situation before Friday night’s Southern League matchup with Gustine High.
They didn’t have much of a roster.
A handful of players were hurt. And because of that, Eagles coach Rusty Lyon switched to a new offense. But the Eagles — who only had 19 players suit up — managed to overcome their disadvantages by jumping out to a three-touchdown lead, snatching three interceptions, slowing down the opponent’s run attack and watching a nice showcase from quarterback/running back duo Chase Gonzalez and James Riley in an easy 34-8 win at Livingston High in front of a few hundred people.
“We desperately needed this win,” Lyon admitted afterward.
After being shut out the past two games, the Eagles are now 1-1 in league play and 2-3 overall heading into next week’s matchup against Mariposa High. The Redskins, on the other hand, are now on a 10-game losing streak that goes back to last season.
TC was effective on both offense and defense, with Gonzalez getting things started with a 21-yard touchdown strike to Riley about 2 minutes into the second quarter. That was Gonzalez’s first passing TD in three games, since his Eagles were held scoreless in lopsided defeats to Division I’s Chavez High and league opponent Waterford High the past two weeks.
In fact, Gonzalez didn’t look so good at the beginning. He started the game with five straight incomplete passes. But he made up for them throughout the night, throwing 8-for-18 for 186 yards, two TDs and no interceptions.
By halftime, he had 139 passing yards, more than enough to give the Eagles a 21-0 lead.
Riley supported his quarterback’s effort by finishing with 98 yards and one TD on 25 rushes, in addition to catching two scores. It was the ground attack that caught Lyon’s eye, since the Eagles switched to a new offense — from a spread offense to a pro-set, which allowed TC to both run and pass — due to the many injures the team has suffered even before the season began.
“The guys were able to really move the ball on the ground,” Lyon said. “We haven’t done that with that kind of authority all year long. It was great to be able to see it.”
The defense wasn’t so bad either.
Nick Truax, Chase Ulrich and Stetson Tucker all frustrated Gustine quarterback Jonathan Mello (5-for-19 for 71 yards) by intercepting three of his passes, not to mention that the Eagles as a unit held top running back Roman Puppo to 97 rushing yards despite carrying the ball 26 times. (In contrast, the Eagles used four rushers to finish with 137 yards on 34 carries.)
Gustine scored late in the third quarter, but the Eagles responded with a 14-yard TD pass from Gonzalez and a 1-yard run by Casey Franco in the final quarter. It was more than enough for TC to earn the win.
However, the Eagles went home with another injury. Extra-point kicker Tevin Jones broke his shoulder on a kick return to start the second half and was taken to the hospital.
But the Eagles are determined not to let another injury slow them down.
“We work hard five days a week and it was finally time that we got a win,” said Riley, the TC running back.
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