After a slow start offensively for Turlock against Gregori (Modesto) in Thursday night’s league opener at Don Lanphear Stadium, five turnovers forced by the Bulldogs’ defense catapulted them to a 51-24 win, their first of the 2023 season.
Heading into the game, the Bulldogs owned an 0-5 record. Was it really indicative of how good - or bad - the Bulldogs actually are this season? Or were losses to Rocklin, Clovis West, Folsom, Central of Fresno and Clayton Valley Charter (Concord) just speed bumps on another long Turlock playoff run? After their first few plays against Gregori, the former seemed the likelier answer.
After forcing the Jaguars to punt on their opening drive, a touchdown return by Jeremiah Bertalotto was called back due to taunting. The very next play, Turlock’s first play from scrimmage, a botched handoff from quarterback Vincent Gonzales to running back Kaeden Patterson was lost.
All seemed to be going wrong, until the defense took matters into their own hands.
On the ensuing Gregori drive, a pack of Bulldogs met running back Michael Marsden behind the line of scrimmage. Somewhere in the pile, the ball was stripped and was quickly recovered by Owen Miller. The turnover set up a six yard touchdown strike from Gonzales to Andrew Johnson to open the scoring midway through the opening frame.
Turlock senior defensive end Tarell Johnson continued to make life uncomfortable for Gregori’s offense. On fourth down the next drive, Johnson broke through the Jaguars line to sack quarterback Conner Bailey. Johnson followed up his defensive efforts by punching in a touchdown from one yard out to extend Turlock’s lead to 14-0.
Coming into Thursday night, Johnson only had six carries through his team’s first five games. When he was handed the ball a second time from 37 yards out, he refused to be denied a highlight as he channeled his inner Marshawn Lynch, (his favorite player), breaking two tackles and trucking the last Gregori defender in his way of the goal line to put Turlock up 21-3.
“I just thought, ‘Just get to the endzone. Keep going and don’t stop,’” he said. “I just stay ready. Work hard at practice. Just go hard every single rep and keep going. It’s just hard work, hard work, hard work. And it pays off. I just took advantage of the spot.”
Also capitalizing on opportunities was Turlock safety Junior Silva. On the following drive, Silva sniped a pass from Bailey over the middle and returned it 55 yards to extend the Turlock lead to 28-3. He snagged another interception right before the half.
“We know the offense started slow, but the defense came out here and capitalized,” Silva said. “We had a bye week last week, so we were watching straight film all week last week and this week on Gregori. We know what they were going to try to come out here and do to us.”
Devon Lambert forced the fourth turnover when he stripped receiver Reggieon Foster late in the fourth quarter. With 22 seconds left in the game, Hunter Kincaid ran an interception back 63 yards for good measure.
Offensively, Gonzales completed 14 of 20 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns, highlighted by a 96 yard touchdown pass to Bertalotto.
The Bulldogs are now 1-5 overall and 1-0 in the Central California Athletic League. They look to make it consecutive wins and a ninth straight against crosstown rival Pitman next week in the 20th edition of the Harvest Bowl.