This year marks the 20th time that Turlock and Pitman will meet in one of the best high school rivalries in the region. It gained such status right out of the gate when the Pride, behind junior quarterback Colin Kaepernick, won the inaugural Harvest Bowl 21-18 in 2004.
Usually, the new school gets batted around for a decade before it finally breaks through and really cements the game as a true rivalry.
Last week, Hughson and Escalon, bitter rivals through the decades, squared off in a matchup of reigning state champions. Escalon, the defending CIF 4-AA state champ, defeated 5-AA champ Hughson 21-14 in a game that was every bit as good as advertised.
But for most of the past two decades, Hughson was an up-and-down program — mostly down — and the Huskies-Cougars rivalry dimmed.
Frankly, that’s where we’re at with the Harvest Bowl.
Turlock has won the past nine matchups at Joe Debely Stadium. Most of those haven’t been remotely close, with the Bulldogs winning by an average score of 39-11. Only once during that span was the result as close as eight points.
That’s good for the Turlock program and its fans, but not necessarily good for a rivalry.
Of course, Pitman dominated the previous decade nearly as handily, winning the first four Harvest Bowls and eight of the first 10. But there was something novel about the underdogs beating the Bulldogs. Everybody likes an underdog story. Besides, most of those first 10 Harvest Bowls were close; seven of them were decided by a touchdown or less. Five of them, in fact, were decided by three points or less; one went to overtime. Even though Pitman racked up victory after victory, it was always a toss-up heading into the contest.
Again, that hasn’t been the case recently. Lately, with the exception of 2018 matchup when both were undefeated in league play, Turlock has been heavily favored.
Harvest Bowl through the years
The Harvest Bowl is one of the best intra-city rivalries in the region. Friday night marks the 20th installment, which has featured such well-known athletes as Pitman’s Collin Kaepernick, Anthony Harding and Dominick Walker, and Turlock’s Kevin Kramer, Danny Velasquez and Mustafa Johnson. Who will be the next star? What will be the next big moment? Which team will win? Find out in Saturday’s Turlock Journal. Until then, here’s a look back at the previous Harvest Bowls.
2004: Pitman 21, Turlock 18 — The first year of the Harvest Bowl saw junior quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the neophyte Pride football program come away with a 21-18 victory, as Pitman’s Mark Runyan scored a touchdown in the final quarter to hold off the Bulldogs.
2005: Pitman 35, Turlock 34 (OT) — The game was determined in overtime as both teams scored in the extra minutes. After watching Turlock score and notch the extra point, Pitman found pay dirt to make it 33-34, then went for the win on a two-point conversion. Running back Anthony Harding crossed the goal line for the victory.
2006: Pitman 21, Turlock 0 — The Pitman defense pitched a shutout, the first of four in the history of this series and the only one to date for the Pride, as Brandon Harris took over as Pride coach for Larry Nigro. Lance Cornell was making his coaching debut for Turlock, taking over for Tom Tyler.
2007: Pitman, 20, Turlock 19 — After just carrying the ball one time in the first half, Pitman’s Stefan Palacio carried the ball 12 times for 99 yards in the second, leading the Pride to a 20-19 victory.
2008: Turlock 7, Pitman 0 — Turlock High captured its first Harvest Bowl as sophomore quarterback Kevin Kramer, who would go on to play baseball at UCLA, scored on a designed roll-out from the 2-yard line.
2009: Pitman 40, Turlock 6 — Dominick Walker rushed for 174 yards on 15 carries and scored three touchdowns. After Turlock cut into a 10-0 lead with a TD midway through the second quarter, Pitman scored 30 unanswered points, handing new Turlock coach James Peterson a loss in his first Harvest Bowl.
2010: Turlock 21, Pitman 16 — Senior Kevin Kramer, now in his third year as the varsity starting QB, threw for a TD, ran for a TD, made the saving tackle on a two-point conversion attempt, and recovered Pitman’s onside-kick attempt late in the fourth quarter.
2011: Pitman 16, Turlock 13 — AJ Derr — son of Pitman assistant Jon Derr, who was a kicker at the University of the Pacific — kicked field goals of 41, 35 and 25 yards, the last one clinching a 16-13 win.
2012: Pitman 49, Turlock 27 — Drew Lewis returned two interceptions for touchdowns and fullback Kody Bracket rushed the ball 33 times for 170 yards and a TD as the Pride rolled, 49-27.
2013: Pitman 27, Turlock 25 — Tom Tyler, who previously coach at Turlock High, earned a win in his Harvest Bowl debut as the Pride’s head coach.
2014: Turlock 41, Pitman 10 — Bubba Moreno completed 80 percent of his passes (20 for 25) for 307 yards and three touchdowns as the Bulldogs romped 41-10 — one to now-Turlock assistant Danny Velasquez — to begin a streak of eight consecutive victories.
2015: Turlock 24, Pitman 16 — The Bulldogs held on for the victory and, in doing so, earned a home playoff game the following week at Joe Debely Stadium while Pitman had to hit the road for postseason play.
2016: Turlock 31, Pitman 14 — Senior quarterback Danny Velasquez, who was named the Central California Conference’s MVP for two consecutive seasons, ran for two touchdowns and threw for another to earn the outright conference title.
2017: Turlock 39, Pitman 27 — This was the last time the Pride were within 30 points of the Bulldogs.
2018: Turlock 33, Pitman 0 — Quarterback Jonah Kosakiewicz was 11 for 17 for 174 yards and three total touchdowns as the Bulldogs clinched the first Central California Athletic League title.
2019: Turlock 41, Pitman 7 — The Bulldogs completed a perfect run through league play to win their second consecutive CCAL title. Lance Weckerle was the new coach for Pitman.
2020: Turlock 49, Pitman 7 — Due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the hiatus of fall sports, this game actually was played in April of 2021. It didn’t seem to matter, though, as the Bulldogs continued their dominance with the most lopsided Harvest Bowl ever.
2021: Turlock 35, Pitman 0 — This one will be the answer to a trivia question someday: In what year did Turlock and Pitman play two Harvest Bowls? The teams played twice in 2021 as high school sports got back on schedule after a year-long pandemic. It was also Eric Reza’s debut as Pitman coach.
2022: Turlock 57, Pitman 14 — The Bulldogs took a 29-0 lead and eventually led 50-0 before the Pride finally got on the board with a 98-yard kickoff return from Joey Stout. Meanwhile, Turlock’s JV team won 41-0.
But just ask Escalon how quickly it can change.
The Cougars had lost just once to Hughson (2015) since the 2004 season. But last season, the Huskies dominated in a 29-14 victory at Lloyd Engel Field. After last Friday night’s seven-point win over HHS, coach Andrew Beam talked about getting “that bad taste out of our mouths.”
It didn’t matter that the Cougars had dominated the previous 20 years. Escalon got handled in the 2022 meeting and immediately were out for revenge. Just like it doesn’t matter that Turlock has dominated the past nine meetings. A Pitman win Friday night would change everything. Immediately.
“I can see why people might think the rivalry has lost something, but our tickets are still selling out,” said Turlock coach James Peterson. “The bottom line is, we know we’re going to get their best game, and we’re going to prepare for that.”
Both teams enter with 1-5 records, though Turlock is ranked No. 23 in the Sac-Joaquin Section by MaxPreps.com. Pitman, meanwhile, is rated 78th. Why the disparity? Turlock’s preseason schedule, which consisted of Northern California powerhouses, is the reason. The Bulldogs have a strength-of-schedule rating of 29.5, third best in the Sac-Joaquin Section behind Folsom (33.4) and St. Mary’s (31.9). Pitman’s strength of schedule is rated at 0.7. For context, Mira Loma (Sacramento) has a section-worst SOS of minus-63.8.
“It’s not much of a rivalry right now, because we haven’t won in a bunch of years,” said Pitman coach Eric Reza, who’s been a part of the school's football program since the first Harvest Bowl in 2004. “We need a win to bring back this rivalry. But I just know that at some point, just like anything else in life, things do even out. And I know that I believe in my kids to play hard and do what they’re supposed to do. I think we can compete just fine.
“And it’s one of those things where it doesn’t matter what record is or what the past is, everybody out there elevates their play a little bit.”