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Manteca bests Turlock in high-scoring affair
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JT Foreman II gains yards for the Bulldogs Friday during their game against Manteca (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

The Manteca and Turlock high school varsity football teams clashed on the gridiron for the first time since 1993 on Friday night in a matchup which saw the Bulldogs put up plenty of fight, but ultimately resulted in the Buffaloes leaving Joe Debely field with a 44-36 victory.

Turlock has yet to record a pre-league win in a schedule filled with tough opponents, while Manteca’s win added another notch to their undefeated record.

“We pieced together a plan and in those last three quarters we just showed resiliency,” Manteca head coach Mark Varnum said.

It was a busy first quarter for the Bulldogs, with an excellent kickoff return by Peter Mello to start the game putting Turlock on the five-yard line. A short, four-yard pass from Turlock quarterback Cole Gilbert to tight end David Salazar put them up 7-0, only for the Buffs to answer back with a 54-yard touchdown from running back Blake Nichelson and successful two-point conversion.

Turlock scored on their next two possessions, first thanks to a 30-yard run from running back JT Foreman. After Turlock’s Marcos Rodriguez intercepted Manteca quarterback Garrison Reis, the Bulldogs took advantage and Gilbert connected with Addan Gutierrez in stride on a 37-yard touchdown pass to take an early 21-8 lead.

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Turlock quarterback Cole Gilbert searches for an open target during the game Friday night against Manteca (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

After the Buffs made it 21-16 in the second quarter by way of another Nichelson touchdown, Manteca linebacker Dominic Alvarez recovered a fumble by Gilbert and ran it 54 yards into the end zone to put his team up 24-21 following another two-point conversion.

“I think we get a little bit tired, a little bit fatigued. We’ve got a lot of guys going two ways on offense and defense. Guys are banged up, and we're just trying to do our best,” Turlock head coach James Peterson said.

Gilbert came out of the game at the end of the first half with a knee sprain, but returned in the second half. He had his work cut out for him, as Manteca’s Nichelson scored back-to-back-to-back touchdowns on three consecutive Buffalo possessions: a 27-yard touchdown reception from Reis, a 40-yard run and a monster 91-yard dash into the end zone.

With just one successful two-point conversion, the three scores put the Buffs up 44-21 in the third quarter.

“He's amazing. I mean, you see why he's one of the best players in the Valley,” Varnum said of Nichelson.

Nichelson finished his impressive night with 237 yards on 16 carries with four rushing touchdowns and one touchdown reception.

The night wasn’t over for Turlock, however, with Gilbert carrying on in the pocket despite his injury. The Bulldogs fought back with an 11-play drive capped by a three-yard touchdown from Foreman and a successful two-point conversion of their own to bring the score to 44-29, then a 14-play drive on their next possession that ended with a six-yard touchdown pass from Gilbert to tight end Joshua Weatherbee.

Trailing 44-36 with under a minute left, the Bulldogs attempted an onside kick to get one last shot at the end zone that was recovered by Manteca.

“I just feel like these guys are getting battle tested every week and we’ve got heart. We're down and out right now, but we’ve just got to keep playing,” Peterson said. “We found out tonight that Cole will stay in that pocket and throw lasers, and JT will come out of the backfield bringing it…We’ve just got to keep going.”

Gilbert finished the night for Turlock completing 13 of 24 passing with three touchdowns. Foreman had 169 yards on 24 carries Friday with two touchdowns.

Turlock (0-4) will take on Clovis West at 7 p.m. at home next Friday. Manteca (4-0) will visit Sierra and play at 7 p.m.