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Harvest Bowl: A decade of rivalry
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Pride defender Brente Nelle chases down Turlocks Brandon Esquivel during the 9th Annual Harvest Bowl. The Pride claimed a 49-27 victory in 2012. - photo by Journal file photo

It seems like a lifetime ago that Turlock was a one high school town. In reality it's been a mere 12 years since the opening of Pitman High School — and only a decade of that most exhilarating of high school football games, the crosstown rivalry known as the Harvest Bowl.

On Friday, the Pride of Pitman and Bulldogs of Turlock will meet on the gridiron for the 10th year in what is sure to be a heart-pounding contest.

The first year of the Harvest Bowl — then named the Pit-Bull Classic — saw junior quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the newly developed Pride football team come away with a 21-18 victory, as Pitman scored a touchdown in the final quarter to hold off the ‘Dogs.

The following year was just as exciting as the Bulldogs played neck and neck with the Pride in their search to even the series. The game was finally determined, in spectacular fashion, in overtime as both teams scored in the extra minutes. After watching Turlock score and notch the extra point, Pitman found pay dirt to make it 33-34 before risking it all for the win on a two-point conversion. Running back Anthony Harding crossed the goal line for the one point win, handing Pitman the first two Harvest Bowls by a difference of a combined four points.

Since then, Turlock has been able to pull away with two victories in 2008 by a score of 7-0 and also a 21-16 win in 2010, but the Pride still have the upper hand with a record of 7-2.

“I don’t see how it will never be a close game; they usually end up like that,” Pitman coach Tom Tyler said about the history of the rivalry.

Tyler is in the unique position of coaching the Harvest Bowl from both sides.  He was the Turlock head coach from 1996-2005. Four years ago, Tyler took a position as defensive coordinator for Pitman, before being named head coach of the Pride this season.

Last year, in coach Brandon Harris’ final season with the Pride, Pitman was able to notch a 49-27 win. This year, Turlock coach James Peterson looks to pick up his second win in five games against Pitman, and secure a possible playoff berth for the Bulldogs.

“There’s going to be a lot of mutual respect amongst players. That’s the biggest thing for me, I want to see both teams play hard,” Peterson said.

Coach Tyler is also seeking his first Harvest Bowl win as a head coach, this time for Pitman. In the six wins for the Pride this year, the line has carried the team with a strong running game—which averages over 278 yards on the ground.

“There’s four quarters to play and we’re going to play them as hard as we can,” Tyler said. “Everything this week points to us needing to win.”

The defensive front anchored by Nick Roditis, Eric Bejaran and Josh Vercelli will be key in stopping the Bulldogs strong running game. Along with the duo back tandem of Drew Lewis and Logan Wolfley, quarterback Wyatt Clapper will need to continue to be efficient in the pocket along with playing mistake free ball in order to come away on top.

“Turlock always comes out ready to play us tough and so do we. Usually it always comes down to the last five minutes and we just have to work hard this week,” Wolfley said. “We have another game plan and we need to come out and execute and play the way we know how to play and its going to be a great one.”

Turlock is led by seniors, quarterback Sean Downs and running back Jevan Hogan, who have been a force to be reckoned with. Last week, the two rushed for over 400 yards on the ground against Buhach Colony with the help of a strong offensive and defensive performance.

Andrew Lopez will return from an injury sustained earlier in the year and should be a huge contributor. Bubba Moreno and Jacob Mabie will also be huge factors on the offensive side along with stud tight-end Patrick Downs, who returned last week from a previous injury that sidelined him.

Although the Bulldog defense has struggled at times due to injuries, missed tackles and contentious calls, they should be as healthy as they have been all season and see great play from all around, with playmakers from the line to the defensive backs.

“They’re a pretty talented football team. They got a lot of speed, a lot of offensive weapons, and they play good defense so it should be quite a challenge,” Tyler said about the school he used to coach. “We are going to go out and do our thing and have some fun; we're hoping to have a really good one.”

What makes this year stand out is the playoff implications, especially for Turlock, which faces a win or go home scenario. While the Pride should still reach the playoffs with a Harvest Bowl loss—with at least six overall wins and two league wins—a victory on Friday would erase any doubts.

“We've got to come out and play with passion. We need to play mistake-free and play the way we did against Buhach, basically,” Peterson said. “These guys have been playing youth football together for years, so I think there’s going to be a lot of sportsmanship.”

The epic battle is set to begin at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Joe Debely Stadium. Tickets are limited and can be purchased at the Pitman High office for $7 for adults and $5 for senior citizens and Turlock Unified students. Children 5 and under are free.