Monday night football may not be on television screens just yet, but it was alive and well at Joe Debely Stadium this week as the Turlock High varsity football team welcomed Clayton Valley Charter High for a matchup twice postponed by poor air quality.
Originally scheduled for last Friday night, smoky skies caused by wildfires burning throughout the state pushed the Bulldogs’ game to Saturday morning. The game was then postponed two more days as poor air quality lasted through the weekend.
After confusion and uncertainty as to whether or not the game would be played, Turlock fell 35-23 on Monday to Clayton Valley — a team that won the CIF State Division II-AA championship during the last full season of play in 2019. The Week 2 loss comes following Turlock’s first game of the season against Rocklin High, where they suffered a 41-0 defeat after starting quarterback Cole Gilbert was forced to sit out due to COVID exposure.
“We keep getting tested every week...This time we had more of our personnel, so we could kind of deal with things,” Turlock head coach James Peterson said. “Obviously, having our starting quarterback in the game helped our offense move the ball tonight, so we really needed to see that. I think we got what we needed in this game; we just didn't quite pass the test.”
The Clayton Valley Ugly Eagles scored first, thanks in part to a pick thrown by Gilbert on the Bulldogs’ first possession of the game. The interception gave the Ugly Eagles excellent field position on Turlock’s own seven-yard line, where their quarterback was able to score on a one-yard sneak.
Gilbert was happy to be back on the field after his absence last week, he said, and was able to shake off his early interception. The junior QB ended the night 20-30 with 276 passing yards and two touchdowns, along with the interception.
“I just knew I had to stay calm...I just stayed comfortable, put a lot of trust in my o-line and just tried to get the ball to some athletes that we have,” Gilbert said. “We had a couple slips, but that's a powerhouse school over there and they play a great game. We have a couple of little mistakes to fix, and I think we're right there with those guys.”
After the Ugly Eagles touchdown in the first quarter and another in the second, the Bulldogs closed out the first half by scoring nine unanswered points. The first two points came via a safety by the Turlock defense, then with just over a minute left in the half, Gilbert connected with wide receiver Logan Hart on a 28-yard pass and then was able to find his other receiver Peter Mello for a three-yard touchdown.
“Those guys worked hard in the offseason,” Peterson said of the Bulldog offense. “...I feel like they’re starting to develop and starting to realize what it takes to play.”
Clayton Valley came out firing in the second half with a 57-yard touchdown run on their first possession, followed by another one-yard touchdown during their next drive.
Turlock made it interesting, utilizing the speed of running back JT Foreman and Gilbert’s arm to complete a seven-play drive down the field and close out the third quarter with a 15-yard touchdown pass caught once again by Hart. After forcing an Ugly Eagles punt to begin the fourth quarter, Foreman followed up a 64-yard pass from Gilbert to tight end Joshua Weatherbee with a seven-yard touchdown of his own.
Down by just five points 28-23 and with seven minutes left in the game, Turlock was unable to stop Clayton Valley on their next drive and they scored on a nine-yard touchdown run. Despite the end score of 35-23, Turlock had 366 total offensive yards on the night compared to Clayton Valley’s 312.
“It's tough. We spent a lot of minutes on the football field, so we’ve got to figure out how we can get off the football field,” Peterson said. “That's what we're going to try and do this week. That's our goal.”
The Bulldogs will have a short week of practice before traveling to Fresno on Friday to take on Bullard High at 7:30 p.m.