Here’s the great thing about rivalry games: no matter the records of the teams involved, they’re still important games.
And Turlock’s intra-city rivalry is one of the biggest and most important rivalry games around.
On the surface, a couple of sub-.500 teams are scheduled to play at Joe Debely Stadium on Friday night in the 19th annual Harvest Bowl.
Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. Get your tickets now and arrive early.
Dig deeper and you’ll see that there’s much more at stake, despite the sluggish starts to their respective seasons.
For starters, this year’s Harvest Bowl also serves as the Central California Athletic League opener for both schools, so despite non-conference results, the decks have been cleared as pursuit of a conference title begins.
“It’s a new season,” said Pitman head coach Eric Reza, coaching in his second Harvest Bowl. "One of our goals, always, is to win league. And, of course, the whole town is going to be out there. It’s a big deal.”
Pitman (1-4) doesn’t have a win against a team with a winning record this season, but three of its four losses have come to teams ranked near the top of their respective divisions: 5-1 Patterson, ranked No. 2 in MaxPreps.com's Sac-Joaquin Section Division 2 rankings; 5-0 Golden Valley, the No. 6 team in D-3; and 5-0 Oak Ridge, the No. 3 team in D-1.
The Bulldogs (3-2), meanwhile, started the year with an impressive 14-7 win over Rocklin (which has reeled off four consecutive wins since the opener). Turlock’s losses, like Pitman’s, have come to high-ranked foes: Clovis West, No. 2 in the Central Section’s D-2 rankings; Central, the No. 4 team in Central Section’s D-1; and Manteca, the top-rated D-2 school in the SJS.
The ’Dogs are coming off 35-33 win in Concord against Clayton Valley Charter, the fifth-ranked team in the North Coast Section’s top division.
Pitman is just days removed from a 61-0 thumping at the hands of Oak Ridge. But Pride running back Joey Stout said that loss is already forgotten.
“I’m pretty confident we can bounce back,” said Stout. “We’ve learned how to push through as a team. We’ve just got to have the right mindset when we come out.
“I definitely think this is going to be a tough game all the way through. It’s not going to be a blowout.”
A close game would break the recent trend.
During the Bulldogs’ eight-game Bowl winning streak, they’ve outscored Pitman 293-81, an average outcome of 37-10. Turlock has won five times during the streak by more than 30 points, and only one contest since 2013 has been within a single touchdown — back in 2015 when the Pride lost 24-16.
A win Friday would allow THS to roll into next year’s game, the 20th edition, with an opportunity to make it a complete decade of dominance.
“We just want to win, period,” said Bulldogs coach James Peterson, who is 9-4 in Harvest Bowls. “It’s another week and we want to win. That’s this team’s mentality.”
The game takes on added significance because the CCAL is a six-school league, meaning teams play only five conference games. Stub your toe once and there’s precious little time to reel in the leaders.
“It’s tough, because there’s not seven or eight league games where you have a chance to rebound,” Reza said. “We’ve got to get out to a good start and, hopefully, we will.”
Friday’s loser will be a game down in the standings, with undefeated Downey still to play.
“Teams want to get into this thing and get the win under the belt so they stay in control,” said Peterson. “We are no different. We have to do that in order to get through the CCAL. We have to have momentum to carry us through.”
Finally, there’s this: the winner owns citywide bragging rights for a year.
“Not only keeping the streak going but also crosstown bragging rights,” said THS quarterback Cole Gilbert. “This is my last year and I don’t want to go out losing to this team.”