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Turlock, Denair football fall in season opener following COVID-related absences
Hilmar offense shines in win over Patterson
Hilmar football
Hilmar wide receiver Derek Taylor catches a touchdown pass during the Yellowjackets' game against Patterson High on Friday night (Photo by AnnaMarie Silveira).

The Turlock and Denair high school varsity football teams were unable to overcome personnel setbacks caused by COVID-19 protocols enroute to their season-opening losses over the weekend, while Hilmar High kicked off pre-league play with a victory over a school more than twice their size. 

Not only was Turlock’s first game of the season against Rocklin High rescheduled from Friday to Saturday due to air quality problems, but the visiting Bulldogs also had to adjust to the absence of six players who had been deemed close contacts of positive COVID-19 cases on campus. The end result was a 41-0 defeat which saw Turlock’s starting quarterback, Cole Gilbert, forced to sit out despite testing negative for the virus twice during the week.

“It’s really unfair,” Turlock head coach James Peterson said. “...It’s not fair to the kids. They worked so hard and we had everything perfect during practice.”

The loss of Gilbert meant Peterson had to get creative and shuffle players into positions they wouldn’t normally play, like linebacker and long snapper Ashton Baucom, who played quarterback on Saturday. 

“It changes everything that we’d been practicing for since summer,” Peterson said. 

Turlock High reported 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among students last week and two among staff, resulting in a total of 257 close contacts with varying levels of quarantine. Under California Department of Public Health guidelines, close contacts who are unvaccinated and asymptomatic must quarantine for no less than seven days, even with a negative test. 

“There are so many moving parts that even I can’t keep it all straight. I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve never felt like that, ever,” Peterson said. “I felt bad for the kids. We're just putting that thing behind us because this week's a new week.”

Denair High also suffered due to COVID-19 protocols, head coach Anthony Armas said, and also had to move players around on the field in order to make up for the absence of students who had been exposed. They were defeated by Vacaville Christian at home 24-6 Friday night.

“It didn’t go well offensively at all,” Armas said. “We struggled with the ball and had way more turnovers than we should have...We had to scramble kids around, so it was a rough first game.”

The Coyotes were able to score six thanks to a defensive touchdown by linebacker Landen Climer, who recovered a Vacaville fumble in the end zone. 

“Eventually we did much better than the score looks like,” Armas said. “Towards the end, we kind of tired out but we played pretty good defense.”

Hilmar High traveled to Patterson High on Friday night to take on the Tigers for the first time in 11 years. It wasn’t the first time the ‘Jackets have taken on a Central California Conference competitor recently, however, after playing against the league’s much larger schools during last spring’s shortened, five-game season. 

“Our kids stepped up to the challenge and played really well,” Hilmar head coach Frank Marques said.

Senior quarterback Camron Moak impressed during Friday night’s 27-20 win, passing for 177 yards and three touchdowns — all of which were to 6-foot-7 wide receiver Derek Taylor, whose success as a sophomore last season is carrying over into his junior year this fall.

Marques had nothing but praise for both Moak and Taylor.

“Camron didn’t play last year because he chose to stick with baseball, so it’s really been a pleasant surprise how well he’s played and he’s been a real asset to the team,” Marques said. “With Derek, it’s just awesome to have somebody with that kind of talent. We usually don’t get athletes that have that size and ability.”

Taylor also had a sack on defense Friday night along with Nicholas Vitorino, and Lane Cardoso picked up an interception. The defense had three fumble recoveries on the night.

“[Patterson] had a lot of talent on offense and we were able to contain them,” Marques said. “We have to keep executing and just continue getting better.”

This week, Hilmar will play an away game on Friday at 7 p.m. against Los Banos. Turlock will welcome Clayton Valley Charter to Joe Debely Stadium Friday night at 7 p.m. Denair is scheduled to travel to Sparks, Nevada for a game against Sparks High School pending air quality.