Joe Debely Stadium in Turlock welcomed a packed crowd on Friday night as the Turlock High Bulldogs took on the Rocklin Thunder in the first game of the 2022 season. Although Turlock was considered an underdog by many after having witnessed Rocklin’s impressive 2021 campaign, the Bulldogs hung on for an exciting 14-7 victory.
The first quarter of the game was a defensive struggle as both teams were held scoreless. It wasn’t until early in the second quarter that the Bulldogs took advantage of several Thunder penalties to get into the red zone. It wouldn’t be long until Turlock senior quarterback Cole Gilbert used his versatility to break the goal line for a 1-yard touchdown.
With a 7-0 lead, the Bulldog defense continued to stiffen the Thunder offense. Rocklin quarterback Joey Roberts was under heavy pressure for most of the game, but it was a pass rush in the second quarter that led to a costly mistake by the senior quarterback. As Roberts evaded Bulldog defenders, he misled a pass down the middle of the field, only for it to be deflected and end up in the hands of Turlock defensive back Jeremiah Bertalotto, who returned the ball inside of the Rockline 20-yard line.
After a penalty went against the Bulldogs on the ensuing possession, Gilbert and the Turlock offense decided to steer away from the run game and attack the Rocklin secondary through the air. The lefty quarterback quickly targeted wide receiver Logan Bankson over the middle. Bankson hauled in the throw in spectacular fashion and ran nearly 10 yards after the catch, stretching his arms over the goal line as he thrusted into the air by multiple Thunder defenders. Bankson’s 32-yard touchdown sent the home crowd into a frenzy.
Turlock head coach James Peterson gave high praise to Bankson, who ended up with over 75 receiving yards on the night.
“Logan Bankson is a heck of a player. He’s a special guy,” Peterson said. “I give him credit because he’s playing a lot of snaps for us, so we really need Logan to keep his head straight and keep playing with that passion and energy. Him and Cole were real special tonight.”
Looking up at 14-0 deficit at halftime, Rocklin came out motivated and firing on all cylinders. In the Thunder’s first possession of the half, running back Elias Brown led the charge down into Bulldog territory. The Thunder then took the Bulldogs by surprise as they handed the ball off to slotback Austin Adams, who turned a tight corner and took it to the house for a 21-yard touchdown.
Now with only a 14-7 lead, the Turlock offense attempted to surprise Rocklin with a play of their own. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, a trick play would backfire as backup quarterback Vincent Gonzales was intercepted after launching a deep ball into the end zone.
With still plenty of time on the clock for Rocklin to work with, the Bulldog defense held strong again late in the third quarter, stopping the Thunder on fourth down. It was their third fourth down stop of the game. After Turlock would fail to score on their first possession of the fourth quarter, the defense would be relied on heavily once more. On a 4th and 22 in Turlock territory in the middle of the fourth quarter, Roberts launched the ball into the end zone, only for it to be batted down by Gonzales who was playing cornerback.
After watching his defensive unit halt the Rocklin offense on four sperate fourth down conversion attempts, Peterson also had an abundance of high praise for them after the game.
“The linebackers were something else tonight,” he said. “I told them earlier this week that they should be involved in every play, and I think that really excited them and motivated them. Defensive line and defensive backs were also good today, but the linebackers were flying around.”
With three minutes left of game time, Gilbert and the offense successfully drained the clock, with running back J.T. Foreman rushing for multiple first downs including a 12-yard run that placed the ball on the Thunder 1-yard line with just over a minute left to play. Instead of going for a third touchdown, Gilbert knelt the ball twice to let the clock run out, ensuring the 14-7 victory.
“The boys came out and performed,” Peterson said. “I give the guys over there in Rocklin credit, though. I know those guys are banged up right now, but we were banged up too and we gave everything they had. I’m just so proud of how these guys played. They played like a family, and that’s what I love, that’s the kind of team we are.”
Next week, the Bulldogs will travel to Clovis West to take on the Golden Eagles.