It was a thriller Thursday night—full moon and all—when the undefeated Turlock High Bulldogs hosted the Modesto High Panthers.
In their 115th meeting, the former Central California Conference foes took the game down to the wire in nail biting fashion. After being blown out a week prior by Pitman High, the Panthers looked to be on their way to another defeat at the hands of the Bulldogs who opened the game with three consecutive scoring drives and led 34-14 at the half.
A string of Turlock turnovers turned the tide of momentum Modesto’s way, however, leading to a narrow 41-40 Bulldog victory that wasn’t decided until the final seconds of regulation.
“Modesto’s a great team. We knew what to expect tonight: a tough game. That’s what we had our guys prepared for,” Turlock head coach James Peterson said. “I’m happy to come out with a win, more than happy.”
Turlock’s defense stole the game’s momentum on Modesto’s first play of its opening drive when Jason Oliveira recovered an Antonio Perez fumble. The Bulldogs capitalized on the turnover with a Bubba Moreno one-yard touchdown plunge on the subsequent possession. A Sean Downs 69-yard touchdown scramble, a Jevan Hogan interception, and an Andrew Lopez touchdown run from 19 yards out ignited Turlock’s sidelines at the five minute mark of the first quarter and seemed to spell doom for the Panthers.
A 44-yard touchdown pass from Panther quarterback Tiki Tonga to Lovell Collins coupled with back-to-back fumbles from Hogan and Moreno temporarily doused Turlock’s flame. A pair of touchdown completions from Downs to Jacob Mabie and Patrick Green from 9 and 10 yards out, respectively, gave Turlock a cushioned lead again but not before another Hogan fumble on a punt return led to a Tonga 2-yard touchdown run and a 34-14 halftime score.
“That part of the game is just sloppy and that’s the part of the game that drives all coaches nuts,” Peterson said of his team’s turnovers.
Hogan compensated for his pair of first half turnovers on the very first play of the second half with a 55-yard touchdown run. Modesto responded with two touchdowns in less than ten seconds, however, as a read option based attack led to a nine play touchdown drive and a third Hogan fumble on the ensuing kickoff led to a 35-yard return by Collins.
In a blink of an eye the Panthers had made it a two-possession game, 41-28.
Turlock’s offense stalled for the rest of the half as Downs and company struggled to maintain their composure and push back against Modesto’s defense. Turlock’s defense came up big with a much needed goal line stand from their one-yard line in the beginning of the fourth quarter, but was unable to keep Modesto out of the end zone on its next possession as Tonga took it 34 yards down the sideline. Hogan’s quest for retribution continued on the ensuing PAT, however, as the speedy Bulldog blocked the extra point attempt to make it a seven point differential.
Turlock’s defense was on the verge of closing the game when Christian Standridge sacked Tonga for a 6 yard loss, but Modesto’s Caleb Sexson put Bulldog fans on edge with back-to-back receptions of 24 yards and 12 yards. Despite absorbing monstrous hits from Mabie, Sexson was able to hold onto the ball and set up a Byron Perkins 2-yard touchdown run.
With the chips on the table and the scoreboard reading 41-40, Modesto opted to go for the two-point conversion and the win. On the final play of the game Tonga dropped back, rolled to his left, and let loose a pass for a wide open Collins in the corner of the end zone. Unfortunately for the Panthers, the pass sailed past its target.
Turlock escaped with a one point win and its undefeated record intact.
Downs finished with a total of three touchdowns and led the Bulldogs in rushing with 118 yards to go with his 86 yards of passing.
“That’s going to be key if we’re going to try and move into league with the tough CCC lineup,” Peterson said of Downs’ dual performance. “We feel like we’re a balanced team.”
Turlock must now prepare for arguably its toughest challenge yet in next Friday’s opponent, West Valley High. The Bulldogs will travel roughly 234 miles to take on last season’s CIF Northern Section runner ups.
“West Valley is a well coached team. They’ve gotten better each week like us so I’m expecting a tough game out of them,” Peterson said.