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First round heartbreak: Turlock falls two points short to Tracy
THS football 2
Turlock's Andy Jennings carries the rock during the final drive for the Bulldogs in Friday's 21-19 playoff loss to Tracy. - photo by EDDIE RUIZ / The Journal

It was déjà vu for the Bulldogs of Turlock High when they traveled to Tracy High for the first round of the CIF Division I Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. As was the case when the two Bulldog teams met in week 5, Turlock found itself just two points shy of victory after a failed two-point conversion attempt cemented a final score of 21-19

Though Turlock outgained Tracy—350 to 304 total yards, respectively—five turnovers made it impossible for the blue and gold Bulldogs to outscore their green and yellow counterparts.

“We put the ball on the ground way too much, turned the ball over; you can’t win football games like that,” Turlock head coach James Peterson said. “I’m really proud of my guys, man. I’m proud of the way they fight, their resiliency, you know our kids kick and scratch and claw and fight, and they fight until the end. I’m a very proud football coach right now.”

Turlock signaled its return to the post-season for the first time since 2011 in grand fashion with a 73-yard touchdown dash from Andrew Lopez that was ultimately called back due to a block to the back. Still, Turlock rode the excitement of the opening play into the end zone two plays later when quarterback Bubba Moreno scored a 34-yard touchdown on a read-option run.

“At the beginning of the game we had them a little off balance and it took them a little while for their defense to settle in. They have a very fast and physical defense that tackles well, so you have to run and protect the football consistently against them, and if you don’t it’s going to be a long night,” Peterson said.

Protection problems for Turlock began on its third possession when running back Danny Velasquez fumbled and lost the ball on Tracy’s 24-yard line. The turnovers continued on Turlock’s next three possessions as Lopez and tight end Jacob Mabie fumbled the ball away and Moreno threw an interception.

On the other side of the ball, Turlock held Tracy scoreless until the sixth minute of the second quarter when quarterback Michael Brown found Jason Nelson for a 14-yard touchdown pass. Tracy scored its second touchdown of the night with only 56 seconds left in the half off a Nate Jones run from eight yards out to make it 14-7 at halftime.

“Tracy did get a lot better. It was a lot harder to push them at the line of scrimmage,” Turlock’s left tackle Ryan Murphy said. “Their linebackers filled in a lot more, if I remember correctly, than they did last game. So it made running between the tackles a lot harder.”

After allowing Tracy to march 60 yards and score on its first possession of the second half, Turlock tried to reestablish its running game with the duo of Lopez and Velasquez. Having covered 62 yards in nine plays, Turlock was knocking on Tracy’s door when Moreno threw his second interception of the night on a deflected pass at the line of scrimmage.

With Tracy making an effort to drain the clock, Turlock got the ball only twice more before the final whistle. Turlock closed the gap with a 40-yard touchdown pass to Velasquez only to miss the extra point with a wide-left kick from Moreno.

After a defensive stand, Turlock found itself in a do-or-die situation as its offense faced third and twelve with less than four minutes to play. That’s when Moreno dropped back and delivered a dart to receiver Jefferey Hines who perfectly executed a hook and ladder to Lopez for a 76-yard touchdown. Unfortunately, Moreno’s ensuing pass to Hines on the two-point conversion attempt fell just short of the receiver’s hands and gave Tracy the opportunity to run the clock out for the playoff win.

“The hitch and pitch, man. It’s an old Turlock favorite; it’s an old play. We love it. We work on it in practice every week,” Peterson said. “It almost got us back in the game tonight. We were an incompletion away from tying the game there.”

Moreno finished with 168 yards and two touchdowns through the air and another 53 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Lopez finished with 150 all purpose yards and a touchdown and Velasquez finished with 73 all purpose yards and a touchdown.

Tracy’s Brown finished with 167 total yards—84 on the ground and 83 through the air—and a touchdown while Jones finished with 123 total yards and two touchdowns.

Turlock ends its season with a 6-5 record with all of its losses coming by a combined 13 points.

“I was proud that our team got this close. We’ve had some bad losses and they’ve all been close. This is just another one of those; we just didn’t step up,” Murphy said.

Tracy advances to play the winner of today’s game between Jesuit and Gregori High.

“We’ll be returning a lot of guys who plays a lot of football,” Peterson said of his team’s prospects next year. “About half our starters will be returning, so I think we’re in great shape for next season. The guys that we have coming back are quality guys.”