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A gridiron reunion over 50 years in the making
Turlock, Edison football alumni reflect on thrilling 1970 game that helped Bulldogs to undefeated CCC title
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From left to right: Al Tornquist, Tom Volk, David Yonan, Fred Lindsey and Oreaser Brown Jr. pose for a picture after reuniting to listen to recordings and watch clips of the iconic 1970 football game between Turlock and Edison (CHRISTOPHER CORREA/The Journal).

Four years ago, as David Yonan usually does, he sat in his home and reflected on his high school days. His best memories at Turlock High School came on the football field, and one of the most memorable games from his senior season was a 14-0 win over Edison of Stockton in Week 7 of the regular season on the night of Nov. 6, 1970.

The 1970 Bulldogs, led by head coach Les Ratzlaff, improved to 8-0 overall with the win. They proceeded to mount a 27-point comeback against Grace Davis the next week to clinch the Central California Conference title before a 22-0 dismantling of Modesto secured a perfect 10-season. There has not been a perfect season for Turlock High since.

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The 1970 Turlock High varsity football squad remains the last team to achieve a perfect record, going 10-0 under head coach Les Ratzlaff.

At the time, the CCC championship was the pinnacle, as the Sac-Joaquin Section did not introduce playoffs until the 1976 season. Heading into the 1970 campaign, the Vikings had not lost in nearly three years.

“That was the game of all games,” said Yonan, who played fullback. “To accomplish that, you needed to have a good team. And we were. We were a family… I think about those times often.”

On that particular day four years ago, Yonan realized that many of his teammates and opponents had passed away. Out of pure curiosity, he began searching names on the internet. He had kept tabs with several Turlock teammates and their families since they graduated in the spring of 1971, but had heard little from the Edison folks. Although they were foes on the field in November, they came together a few months later to take part in the Optimist All Star Game. 

One of those Edison players was running back Willard Harrell, who after graduating attended the University of the Pacific and had a 10 year playing career with the Green Bay Packers and St. Louis Cardinals. Yonan found his phone number after an extensive search online. Harrell still lives in the midwest, and recognized Yonan almost immediately. Although Harrell couldn’t come to California to meet in-person, he was able to help Yonan connect with his old teammates.

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Players from the 1970 football game between Turlock and Edison are joined by their families to watch a replay of the contest in Turlock on May 25 (CHRISTOPHER CORREA/The Journal).

Dozens of phone calls later, a handful of alumni from both schools reunited in Turlock on May 25. But it wasn’t like most reunions.

Yonan and his family are somewhat historians of Turlock football. During his varsity days, his grandmother, Khanoun Pera, sat next to the radio and held her tape recorder up to the speaker. She passed down the cassette tapes of each of the 10 games to Yonan, which he has safely secured in a locked box in his home. Additionally, the family is in possession of game film from every game of the historic 1970 season.

As part of last month’s gathering, which included Yonan, Turlock quarterback Tom Volk, Turlock defensive end Al Tornquist, Edison running back Oreaser Brown Jr. and Edison defensive/offensive tackle Fred Lindsey, the group watched a replay of the iconic game and listened to portions of the radio recordings.

“This is history right here,” Yonan said. “She was our biggest fan, and she kept everything… I told some of the guys about it and I just wanted us to get together to watch the tapes and talk about the good old days. To get us together and watch that Edison game back, I feel like it’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal.”

The group reminisced on their football days, updated each other on what has transpired in their lives since. They even called Harrell on the phone. Many of his former teammates had heard his voice for some time. They then grabbed food and listened to the recordings.

Volk said he had “chills” listening to the tapes, which featured postgame interviews with Ratzlaff and Joe Debely, the winningest coach in Turlock history in which the school’s stadium has been named after.

“It’s like listening to Joe Debely’s ghost,” he joked.

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During David Yonan’s varsity football days in 1969 and 1970, his grandmother, Khanoun Pera, sat next to the radio and held her tape recorder up to the speaker. She passed down the cassette tapes of each of the 10 games to Yonan, which he has safely secured in a lock box in his home (CHRISTOPHER CORREA/The Journal).

The recordings rekindled memories from all in attendance. “It’s almost like an adrenaline rush,” Tornquist said.

Among the topics discussed were the injuries and surgeries some of the men have had since their playing days. For Brown, the adrenaline rush Tornquist referred to was much needed.

“Reflecting is important, man,” he said. “It’s actually a good feeling when you could go back to youngness again. Especially with my knee messed up now and there’s certain things in your body that bother you. It’s a cool thing, man.”

One memory that Brown has never forgotten, even without having to listen or watch the recordings, was being tackled by Carl Nored after breaking loose on a 74-yard run — a play that prevented a late Edison comeback.

At the time of the “tackle heard around Turlock,” the Bulldogs held onto a slim 6-0 lead late in the game. The score came courtesy of a 15-yard screen pass from Volk to tight end Gary Adams in the second quarter.

“Turn away,” Volk jokingly advised Brown when the play came up in the recordings.

With the game on the line, Nored stayed close behind Brown for most of the entire 74 yards before bringing him down at the Turlock 15 yard line. The Edison drive ended four plays later on a failed fourth-down conversion.

“Really, you start forgetting things when you get older,” Brown said. “On top of that, all the hits we took, it adds up… But I will never forget when that guy tackled me. It’s funny, you remember the disappointing moments more than the happy ones, but that’s just how it is. You forget all the small details that you hear in the recording that made such a difference in the game. It’s a trip.”

The Bulldogs ended up putting the game away on a one-yard touchdown rush by Yonan with 43 seconds to play.

“You have to understand, at that time, nobody beat Edison,” Yonan said. “That was the biggest win for the program in some time.”

There were more than 6,000 fans in attendance, according to former Journal reporter Frank Godinez’s report more than 53 years ago.

Lindsey ensured that the game was much closer than what the scoreboard showed at the final whistle.

“That was a physical game. One of the more physical games I can ever remember,” he said.

In the following week’s game against Davis, Turlock experienced a bit of a hangover, falling behind 27-0 at halftime. After a stern talking to from Ratzlaff in the locker room, the Bulldogs scored 30 unanswered points to win by a 30-27 score. With the blowout of Modesto in the season finale, the fourth perfect season in school history was completed.

What made it sweeter was that the Turlock team had never been expected to be as good that year. As Volk explained, the group of seniors were only about a .500 team during their time at the junior varsity level.

“We really clicked once we got up to varsity,” Tornquist said. “We just gelled, though. We were just a cohesive group. We didn’t have just one great player, we were a group of decent players at each position — an all-around good team.”

Volk, after such a memorable season slinging passes and executive handoffs in the backfield, described the team’s offensive line of Adams, Bob Saugsted, Joel Crockrell, Duane Alameda, Brian Fine and Hector Salazar as “the greatest o-line of all time.”

As for the radio recordings, Yonan has discussed with friends in the radio industry plans to have the contents uploaded onto discs and onto digital files so that they can be shared with others. There are also hopes to have the radio recording synced up with the game film.

“So many of our guys have passed, it just makes me think that we may not have many other chances to do this,” Yonan said. “And to hear the stories, like Oreaser said, it does take you back… What a time.”