MODESTO – About an hour before kickoff as the Turlock High Bulldogs loosened up, they heard a drumbeat of messages from their coaches: “New season,” “Your night” and “Our night.”
The encouragement was prescient, given Turlock’s 0-5 preseason, but the Bulldogs clearly liked the idea of a reset. They dominated the first half Thursday night for a 51-24 victory over Gregori, and that 1-0 Central California Athletic League record trumps the 0-5.
“The doubt seeps in after a while, not so much with us but all around us, like it was surrounding us,” Turlock coach James Peterson said. “It was (us) taking it personal.”
Turlock’s on-point start decided this early-autumn game at Don Lanphear Stadium. The visitors introduced themselves with a 35-3 left hook fortified by Gregori’s generosity with turnovers. The Jaguars (4-2, 0-1), hoping to validate their best start in six years, simply were overpowered when the contest was decided.
But amazingly, Gregori countered in the second half behind the arm of senior quarterback Conner Bailey (45-26-3—279 yards, 3 touchdowns). The Jaguars scored back-to-back TDs, recovered a well-executed onside kick and were within a yard of making it a one-score deficit until a lost fumble broke their momentum with three minutes left.
Turlock calmed its anxiety with a spasm of points – Vincent Gonzales’ third touchdown pass, a 96-yard catch-and-run past the Gregori bench by Jeremiah Bertalotto, and a 64-yard pick-6 by Hunter Kincaid. Gonzales completed 14 of 19 passes for 258 yards and, tellingly, no interceptions.
The Bulldogs lived off their opportunism. They turned five Gregori turnovers into a seismic 35 points. The first-half pullaway was anchored by Jr. Silva, who intercepted a pass deflected by defensive end Logan Durkee and raced 56 yards to the end zone. Moments later, Silva's 46-yard pick-6 was partially negated by a penalty. But Gonzales soon found Kincaid on a screen pass for a 12-yard TD and the 35-3 cushion.
‘Right now, this is our story,” Gregori coach Lamar Wallace said in reference to the Jaguars’ trend for sluggish beginnings. “That’s not how you win games.”
Turlock was hardened by a rigorous non-league schedule. The losses came against NorCal heavyweights with a combined record of 18-6, and allowing 35 points a game was a painful education.
Thus prepared, the Bulldogs wasted no time setting their own beat. They immediately closed down Gregori’s productive senior running back Michael Marsden, who had dented non-league opponents for 879 yards and nine touchdowns.
But against Turlock, he managed only 41 yards on 24 carries, and one touchdown catch. On his first 11 rushing attempts he was held to only 13 yards by a hard-keying Bulldog defense.
That advantage was further illustrated on offense by Turlock’s 235-yard short-yardage specialist Tarell Johnson. He scored the Bulldogs’ second and third TDs—a 1-yard crash to the left on fourth down, and a 37-yard get-out-of-my-way rumble.
“This was the first team that gave us all we wanted up-front,” Wallace said. “Turlock is a good team.”
Turlock’s confidence sometimes went over-the-top. The Bulldogs were flagged 20 times for 223 yards and a hard-to-believe nine personal fouls.
“We got a little too cocky,” said Bertalotto, a battle-tested senior corner. “We played mad.”
Bailey’s touchdown passes covered 4 yards to two-way standout Reggieon Foster before halftime, 8 yards to Marsden and 4 yards Daimyun Luevano.
The penalties helped to revive Gregori in the second half. Bailey, minus Marsden as a major threat, turned to slot Landon Gutierrez (10 catches,108 yards) and Foster to sustain drives. Gregori’s disappointment can be tempered by its determined play after halftime, though its mistakes weren’t small.
And the Bulldogs parlayed those mistakes into their night.
Turlock 51, Gregori 24
T—Andrew Johnson 5 pass from Vincent Gonzales (Mateo Valenciakick)
T—Tarell Johnson 1 run (Valencia kick)
G—FG Jace Guzman 27
T—Tarell Johnson 37 run (Valencia kick)
T—Jr. Silva 56 interception return (Valencia kick)
T—Hunter Kincaid 12 pass from Gonzales (Valencia kick)
G—Reggieon Foster 4 pass from Conner Bailey (Guzman kick)
T—FG Valencia 22
G—Michael Marsden 8 pass from Bailey (Guzman kick)
G—Daimyun Luevano 4 pass from Bailey (Guzman kick)
T—Jeremiah Bertalotto 96 pass from Gonzales (Valencia kick)
T—Kincaid 64 interception return (run failed)
Records—Turlock 1-5, 1-0 in CCAL; Gregori 4-2, 0-1 in CCAL