Playoff traditions will continue this week for both Turlock and Hilmar high’s varsity football teams, which both made the cut to participate in the opening round of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Football Championships this Friday.
The Bulldogs earned the No. 9 seed in the Division I playoff bracket and will face off against No. 8 Sheldon High, while Hilmar was named the No. 6 seed in Division V and will play No. 11 Los Banos High for the second time this school year.
Turlock finished the season 4-6 overall and came in third in the Central California Athletic League with a 3-2 record. They’re one of 11 teams with four wins selected to play in the postseason, marking the program’s seventh-straight playoff appearance. If they beat Sheldon this Friday, it will be the Bulldogs’ third consecutive postseason with an opening round win.
The last time Turlock played Sheldon was 2019, when the Bulldogs pulled off a 14-6 victory over the favored Huskies.
“We’ve made the playoffs every year since 2014, so I was excited,” Turlock head coach James Peterson said. “I just never thought that we would have been in the situation we were in this year.”
The season started out rough for the Bulldogs, who opened pre-league play with a 41-0 loss to Rocklin High after COVID-19 exposure protocols left key players, like starting quarterback Cole Gilbert, to quarantine at home. Gilbert later suffered an MCL injury during preseason play and attempted to push through the year, but had surgery Tuesday as the Bulldogs roll with backup quarterbacks Peter Mello and Ty Teixeira.
Still, the Bulldogs ended up fighting through 10 games to be ranked high enough for a playoff spot.
“The playoffs are a new season. We've brought a bunch of sophomores up to our team, and I've told those guys they can battle for spots and we’ll play the best guy for the position,” Peterson said. “They're all excited, working hard and just trying to get on the field. These guys want to play so it kind of sparked new life in everybody else.”
Hilmar has also faced its fair share of adversity this season; quarterback Hudson Azevedo was unable to play due to injury, though Jason Pimentel and Cameron Moak have filled into the role nicely, and their star running back, Cannon Irelan, walked away from football with just a few weeks left in the season. The team also suffered numerous injuries to key players throughout the season.
The ‘Jackets showed their resiliency despite the setbacks, head coach Frank Marques said, rolling to an 8-2 overall record and third place in the Trans Valley League at 4-2.
“We've had to overcome some obstacles, and I think this is a good character builder for everybody involved,” Marques said. “It would have been easy to use excuses to not have success, but I think we're confident that we have a team that can compete and it's going to be fun watching the game and see where it takes us from there.”
Out of all of the SJS playoff matchups, Hilmar and Los Banos have the most combined playoff experience at 96 games. This will be Hilmar’s 63rd playoff game and Los Banos’ 34th, yet the two teams have never faced each other in the postseason. They did play each other in pre-league this season, however, with Hilmar coming out on top 23-6.
“We're totally a different team than we were then and so are they. They're much improved and so are we,” Marques said. “They're our neighbors to the south and it's really become a friendly little rivalry. I think it's good for both communities — they’re what, 20 minutes away?”
The ‘Jackets are in the playoffs for the sixth season in a row and 21st season in school history and out of Marques’ 18 years as head coach with a postseason (there were no playoffs in the spring), Hilmar has reached the playoffs 17 times. During that time, the ‘Jackets have earned four section titles, one Nor-Cal Championship and one State Championship.
This week, the journey to another begins.
“We’ve seen some great practices. With everything combined, I'm excited for this playoff run,” Marques said. “It could be special. I know there's no guarantees in anything that we do, but I'm excited for a chance.”
Turlock will travel to Sheldon High in Sacramento for the opening round of playoffs and play at 7 p.m. Hilmar will host Los Banos at home for their game, which also starts at 7 p.m. Tickets for playoff games must be purchased ahead of time and can be found at https://gofan.co/app/school/CIFSJS.