TURLOCK — For the first 7 minutes of Thursday night's non-conference matchup between age-old foes Modesto and Turlock, it looked as if the Bulldogs were intent on sending a message to their crosstown rival, Pitman.
The Pride beat Modesto 63-12 last week and it seemed as though Turlock was well on its way to an anything-you-can-do-we-can-do-better result.
But the Bulldogs watched a 41-14 lead evaporate and had to hang on for a 41-40 victory at Joe Debely Stadium.
After Byron Perkins scored with just over a minute to play, making it 41-40, Modesto opted to forgo overtime and play for the win. Quarterback Tiki Tonga rolled to his left and targeted Lovell Collins, but the pass was just out of reach.
"We've definitely put ourselves in position for league," Modesto head coach Richie Alkire said. "We found some of that momentum tonight.
"(Turlock) is a really, really good football team and you've got to make clutch plays against them. I'm really encouraged by our defensive effort. The scoreboard may not show it, but we played some good defense tonight."
The Panthers did, but not before it was almost too late. (See highlights)
Trailing 34-14 at the intermission, Modesto's second-half kickoff went out of bounds and Turlock set up shop at its 45. On the first play from scrimmage, Jevan Hogan raced around the right end for a 55-yard TD, making it 41-14 after Jose Aguilar's point-after.
But after Modesto's Tyler Kafka hauled in a 5-yard TD pass from Tonga, Turlock fumbled the ensuing kickoff and it took a Sunday hop for Collins, who scooped it up and raced 35 yards to make it 41-28.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Tonga scored on a 33-yard run, but Aguilar's extra-point attempt was blocked, making 41-34.
Turlock then turned the ball over on downs with 3:35 remaining and Modesto took over at its 27. On third-and-15, Tonga hit Caleb Sexson for a first down. Tonga again hit Sexson, who was drilled by Alex Pallios just as he made the catch and somehow managed to hang on to the ball and his head.
"Yeah, it hurt," said Sexson after the game. "My head was ringing and I lost my breath, but I just made a catch and I knew I had to stand up and run another play."
From there, Perkins cashed in from the 2, setting up the two-point conversion attempt.
It was the 115th meeting between the schools, who first met in 1920.