As the Sac-Joaquin Section heads into its final week of high school football, Denair is looking to end the season on a positive note while the crosstown rivalry between Turlock and Pitman heats up ahead of the first Harvest Bowl to take place in the spring.
The Bulldogs (4-0) continued their undefeated season last Friday night with a 35-13 victory over Gregori, which head coach James Peterson said was a tougher game than the scoreboard showed. Turlock tallied 355 total offensive yards during the game, while Gregori was right behind them with 338.
“Defensively, we gave up quite a few yards but were able to keep them off the board. It felt like a tougher game than what we were used to this season,” Peterson said. “The offense came out and did their thing and put the points up we needed to win the game.”
Sophomore quarterback Cole Gilbert completed 10 of 18 passes on the night for 113 yards and two touchdowns, a 22-yard pass to his brother Cade Gilbert in the first quarter and a 14-yard pass to Xavier Mason in the second. Cole Gilbert also led the team in rushing on Friday night with 109 yards on seven carries.
“He’s a really level-headed guy and never gets too excited one way or another, and that’s a benefit at the quarterback position because things can happen so quickly in a football game,” Peterson said of his young quarterback. “If you’re able to keep a level head, then your teammates respond to how you’re reacting. He’s able to lead the offense really well in that way.”
Turlock’s other three scores on the night came from senior running back Josiah Gonzales — three 1-yard rushing touchdowns in the second, third and fourth quarters.
“He’s absolutely relentless this year, and you can tell in his running style that he plays fearless,” Peterson said.
The short, five-game season is already coming to an end this week, and Turlock will be Pitman’s guest for the Harvest Bowl this Friday at 7 p.m. from Joe Debely Stadium.
“The city championship is definitely on the line this week. I think that’s the best way to put it,” Peterson said. “We’re going to prepare for them as hard as we have all year for everybody else and we’re gonna see what happens on the football field. The Harvest Bowl is never a game that you can predict.”
The Pride (2-2) will be looking to bounce back against the Bulldogs after falling to Downey 26-14 last Friday.
After falling behind 19-0, Pitman’s defense held the Knights scoreless for three quarters in order to give their offense a chance to catch up. As they got closer, however, a blocked punt returned for a touchdown by Downey proved to be enough to propel the Knights to a victory.
“We made a couple of mistakes early in the first quarter and they capitalized on those opportunities,” head coach Lance Weckerle said. “We were able to move the ball, we just made some mistakes on offense that killed some of our drives.”
To score twice while down by 19 points only underscored the resiliency of the team, Weckerle added.
“I told them I was proud of them. The one thing I think any spectator has been able to see is their heart. They’ve got incredible heart and they fought until the very end of the game to try and get us back in it,” he said.
With the Harvest Bowl set for Friday, Weckerle reflected on the seeming speed of the COVID-shortened season. The 18 months prior to the start of practice seemed to drag on, he said, while the last five weeks have flown by.
When the Pride and Bulldogs meet for the final game of the season this week, they’ll be in front of a slightly larger crowd. Updated public health guidance from the state now allows for more spectators at outdoor sporting events, meaning that senior athletes will receive four tickets to the Harvest Bowl rather than two, as younger athletes will continue to receive. The Harvest Bowl series is tied 8-8 after Turlock won the game in 2019.
Weckerle hopes the Pride, who will be playing as the home team, performs for the crowd.
“I expect them to show up and play with heart like they've been doing all year. We’re just looking for a little bit more execution,” Weckerle said. “Turlock is a talented team, but I think we have some talent as well.”
Denair Coyotes head coach Anthony Armas is happy with the improvements his team has made this season, despite their 40-10 loss to Mariposa last Friday.
“We actually did a lot better than the score looked,” Armas said. “We actually got much better from the week before, so we feel pretty positive coming out of it.”
The young Coyotes (1-3) are beginning to understand their assignments on offense and defense better compared to the beginning of the short season.
“I think kids are starting to understand what we’re asking of them and we’re executing better,” Armas said.
Two of Denair’s younger players had the big plays of the night: freshman running back Hunter Kincaid scored the lone touchdown of the night on an 8-yard rush, while sophomore kicker Angel Sanchez completed a field goal.
This Friday, the Coyotes will take on Waterford (3-1) at 6 p.m. for their final home game of the year.