Turlock High’s varsity football team went into Friday’s game without its starting quarterback and missing three starting defensive backs.
What the Bulldogs of Turlock met was an eager Merced Bears team that was determined to pull away from the Central California Conference and they did so, taking advantage of miscues and playing hard behind their very big and physical offensive line.
Although on the third play of the game Turlock managed to snag one of three interceptions for the night setting themselves up with an early 7-0 lead but as each side contained possession they drove down and exchanged scores.
Eventually Turlock was set with an opportunity to tie it in the final five minutes of the game but on a fourth down Merced’s pass defense caused Turlock to mishandle the throw on a questionable call eventually sealing the 34-28 win.
“Coming into this game we had to overcome a lot of adversities with losing our quarterback,” said Turlock head coach James Peterson. “Danny Velasquez took over and he is the best player and no doubt we chose the right guy for the job we just did not play well enough to win.”
Unfortunately they did not, allowing Merced to pile on 264 first half yards as opposed to Turlock’s 135 total yards of offense in the first and second quarters.
Without starting quarterback Peyton Dunseth, Turlock turned to Danny Velasquez, the team’s starting running back to take over on offense and despite being a shifty, powerful and quick back, Velasquez found himself under duress on countless occasions, especially in the first half.
Turlock was riled up and forced Merced quarterback Jacob Foss to throw three interceptions for the game.
“Felt like our defense was on the field a lot tonight,” said Peterson. “We've got to find ways to get off the field and when we gave the offense opportunities we had to drive the ball and score and we just had to put in more offensively and defensively and it would be different.”
Once Turlock scored first on a Bear ‘Allen’ Padilla 28-yard grab, Merced notched two unanswered touchdowns then on a Merced third down at the start of the second quarter, Mustafa Noel-Johnson of Turlock stripped Merced’s AJ Stewart of the ball and returned the opposite end for an 85-yard score.
On the ensuing drive Merced knocked in the go-ahead field goal from 38 yards out to take a three-point lead, but just before the half Brandon Booz broke out for a big run.
The offense came away with 75 yards on one play in the first half after Booz put the Bulldogs up 21-17 with just over five minutes left till halftime.
Just five plays later, Padilla picked off Foss once again and returned it over 40 yards before Stewart stripped him of the ball, eventually giving Merced a second chance to score and they nailed another field goal in the closing seconds of the first half.
“Merced has some great backs and behind that offensive line those backs are elusive and it was tough when they have multiple guys that were executing but right now it will be tough playing them,” said Peterson.
Despite causing four turnovers in the second half, Merced still found a way to stay in the game, showing resiliency.
Turlock went into the third and marched down the field with a 13-play drive that ended in a nine yard touchdown grab from Padilla from nine yards out to go up 28-20 after chewing nearly six minutes off the clock.
Rayveon Slaton scored for Merced on a nine yard run with 3:25 left in the third but a failed two-point still had Turlock up two.
On their second drive of the third quarter Turlock went down the field and on the seventh play of the drive, Velasquez found a way to run down the sideline with quickness and power to heap forward for a 24-yard run but unfortunately the bad luck continued for Turlock as they were called for a block in the back—the only of the game.
It could not have come at a worse time for the Bulldogs who were backed up and essentially turned the ball over on an interception to allow Merced to go up after scoring a 13-yard touchdown with 8:39 on the clock.
Turlock and Merced each went three and out before Turlock regained possession with 5:14 left in the game.
Only 10 plays later, Turlock was on their second fourth down of the drive but Velasquez pass fell incomplete after a traffic crash between three Merced players and Turlock’s Nathan Arianeh.
“Morale is a bit down with the guys injured that we have but we expect to get guys back by next week for the Harvest Bowl,” Peterson added. “I am excited and so are the guys, after what we been doing all year.”
Booz tallied 12 carries for 111 yards and a touchdown and Velasquez ran the ball 15 times for 91 yards.
Turlock and Pitman, which are both 3-1 in the CCC, will square off in the season finale for second place in league in the Harvest Bowl at 7:15 p.m. Friday.