It’s easy to simply cross off the remaining days of the calendar until Nov. 5, the day of the annual Harvest Bowl. Everything seems to be set for an epic battle between crosstown rivals Pitman High and Turlock High, considering both schools have winning teams that’d be ready to play right now — if it were possible — at the renovated Joe Debely Stadium.
It’s an event that attracts 5,000 fans.
But hold on. Both squads have one more game to play before next week, as Pitman will host battle-tested Merced High at Debely Stadium and Turlock travels to face winless Atwater High. Both Central California Conference games will kick off at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.
The Bulldogs said the biggest key to preparing for Atwater, which is 0-3 in the CCC and 0-8 overall, is staying focused on Atwater. The Falcons, however, are coming off two close losses to Golden Valley High, 14-7, and Pitman, 21-14.
“We gotta take Atwater like they’re the best team in the league,” Turlock sophomore running back Brandon Esquivel said.
The Bulldogs (2-1 CCC, 7-1) are in position to complete a stellar turnaround from last season, when they turned in a 0-10 record. Their only blemish this season was a 28-27 loss to Buhach Colony High on Oct. 8, one that ended on a missed extra-point.
Turlock hopes to be 8-1 before facing Pitman (2-1 CCC, 6-2) next week, as both teams are eligible for the playoffs after notching at least six wins.
The Pride lead the annual series 5-1.
“Even though they’ve lost a lot of games, Atwater has played real good defense at times,” Turlock coach James Peterson said. “They held Pitman’s offense to 21 points last week and they’re only getting better. Obviously, we’re making sure our team is staying focused on this team and not look past to the Harvest Bowl.
“That’s the big thing this week, is just staying focused on Atwater.”
For the Pride, they seemingly have a tougher challenge this week. Merced played a tough preseason schedule against the likes of Paradise High, Clovis West High and Edison High of Fresno before giving CCC foes Turlock and league-leading Buhach Colony tough games.
The Pitman players hope to be 7-2 by next week, while bettering their playoff chances. They know they have to take care of Merced first.
“Merced is an awesome team. Our kids are excited to play them,” Harris said. “It’s not tough for our coaches and the players (to overlook this week’s game). All we’re focusing on is Merced now.”
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