There was a time, nearly a decade ago, when Turlockers had only one football team to root for and an out of town rivalry with Ceres High to look forward to each year. Then, in 2004, things suddenly changed. Pitman High was introduced to the Central California Conference, ushering in a new era of football to the Valley and creating an in-town rivalry culminating in a late-October Harvest Bowl.
For eight seasons Turlock and Pitman have met on the field at Joe Debely Stadium, batting each other in the blistering cold in some of the closest games imaginable. Although the weather might not fit the narrative, that time of year has arrived again. The 2012 Harvest Bowl is only two days away and the Bulldogs and Pride are prepared to continue a tradition of thrilling football.
“It’s kind of like a sibling rivalry,” Pitman’s head coach Brandon Harris said. “They’re very comparable to us.”
Over the course of the Harvest Bowl’s existence the younger Pitman program has proved to be a thorn in the side of big brother Turlock. The Pride have claimed the Harvest Bowl Trophy six times in the past eight seasons and are intent on keeping their hands on it at the conclusion of this year. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, want retribution after missing out on last year’s trophy by a field goal. Of course, there’s more at stake than just bragging rights; both teams feel they need to win in order to keep their playoff dreams alive.
“They want to play; they want to beat Pitman,” Turlock’s head coach James Peterson said. “If we’re going to have a chance at playoffs we need to win because we may have an opportunity depending on how other leagues pan out.”
“You never know what the CIF is going to do, so for us this is a must-win,” Harris said. “We said we started our playoffs last week because we feel if we lose we’re out.”
Turlock enters Friday a game behind Pitman in the CCC. The Bulldogs (4-5 overall, 1-3 CCC) have had to play through injuries to key players all season but have still managed to remain competitive throughout, a result of a tough defense and the versatility of junior quarterback Sean Downs. With the exception of last week’s painful loss to Buhach Colony High, Turlock’s league losses have come by a touchdown or less.
“They’re real balanced so we need to stop Downs; we need to stop their sweeps outside, their option, and their play action passes,” Harris said of Turlock.
The Pride (7-2 overall, 2-2 CCC) began their season by steamrolling their opponents before being handed losses by CCC stalwarts Buhach and Merced High. Pitman’s sizeable roster and depth of able players have proved to be its greatest strength this season, especially in the running back department, but senior Brent Nelle has distanced himself as his team’s greatest offensive threat. Nelle’s cutback ability has been complimented by the occasional passing attack from junior Wyatt Clapper as well as the supporting efforts of seniors Kody Bracket and Brennan Hauser.
“They’re well coached,” Peterson said of Pitman. “Nelle is something special. If we have a soft edge we’re going to be in trouble.”
Because both offenses have shown the capability of putting points on the board and both boast big time playmakers, Friday’s matchup will most likely be decided by defense effort —which squad can contain its opponent more effectively. Pitman will be tasked with defending a balanced attack from both Downs' arm and legs while Turlock will be forced to guard against a three-pronged rushing force lead by Nelle. To prepare, the Pride has been emphasizing attention to detail, discipline, and maximum effort. The Bulldogs’ preparation has also stressed detail but its main focus has been to lessen the hype of the game and hammer in the importance of keeping Pitman’s runners inside the box as much as possible.
“We’re focusing on not giving up the big plays,” Harris said. “They’re real good on offense and defense but I definitely think defense is going to be the key factor in this game.”
“We try to tell the kids that they are just playing another football team,” Peterson said. “I think it’s going to come down to who can get one more defensive stop than the other guy.”
So the stage is set. Pitman versus Turlock, the Bulldogs against the Pride. Whatever the outcome one thing is for certain, football fans can expect a hard fought game between both friends and foes; the best way to end the season.
“I’m pretty sure Turlock’s off season is geared towards defeating us so they’re going to play their best against us,” Harris said. “It’s going to be a low scoring game.”
“This is going to be another close game,” Peterson said. “If we can beat these guys it would heal a lot of wounds from this tough season.”
The game will start at 7 p.m. Friday, with Pitman as the home team this year. Tickets for the game are by pre-sale only. To purchase tickets, call Pitman High School at 656-1592.