Friday night did not start out well for Nathan Duran.
The Atwater High quarterback misfired on his first 10 attempts in the Falcons’ game against Turlock. He also lost a fumble, adding to his frustration.
With the Atwater offense struggling and the Bulldogs leading 14-7, Duran found himself replaced in the second half.
“I couldn’t complain, I wasn’t doing my job,” Duran said. “Coaches make the decisions. All I could do is stand on the sideline and listen to the coaches. I had to wait and hope I got another chance.”
Duran got that chance on the Falcons’ final drive in regulation.
Still trailing 14-7, Atwater started its final drive on its own 43-yard line with 2 minutes and 53 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Duran caught fire, completing 5-of-8 passes for 65 yards to help set up Andrew Avila’s game-tying touchdown with 38 seconds left.
It was a potential season-saving drive as the Falcons went on to win 21-14 in overtime, earning their sixth victory and securing a Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berth.
“I can learn a lot from that game,” Duran said. “I know I can come back now. That drive showed that I have it in me and that this team can do it.
“I have to make better decisions. I have to watch more film and do things that are going to make myself better.”
Duran will be key to providing much needed balance to the Atwater offense when the Falcons (6-2 overall, 2-1 Central California Conference) host Merced (5-3, 2-1) Friday.
“We have to have balance,” Atwater head coach Bob Valladao said. “Last week was frustrating. Turlock played well, but we felt we made our own mistakes. We have to be able to pass the ball and run the ball effectively to put drives together.”
The Falcons are averaging just under 300 yards rushing per game. Atwater is averaging only 12 pass attempts and 107 yards per game.
When the ground game stalled against Turlock, the Falcons had nowhere to turn — except to a passing game that had been mostly ineffective.
But that’s when Duran began doing his best Tom Brady impression.
“I didn’t feel different,” Duran said. “I felt more pressure, but I knew I had to stay calm.” He faced with a challenge right away — a third-and-10. Duran found receiver Isaiah Washington for a 19-yard pass.
Duran leaned on Washington heavily during the tying drive, completing four passes to the junior for 57 yards.
The biggest play came on a fourth down. The Falcons were faced with a fourth-and-1 at the Turlock 29-yard line. But an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty while the Falcons were in the huddle made it a much more difficult fourth-and-16.
“We made up a trick play last week called a slingshot where I pass the ball to a receiver running a curl route and he pitches it to another player. I dropped back, but it wasn’t open. There was a bunch of clutter. So I rolled out to look for somebody open. Isaiah saw me roll out and saw the defense flood where I was going. He went the other way and I threw it to him.”
Washington caught the ball, but was still about 3 yards shy of the first down and had a couple of Turlock defenders trying to bring him down. “I knew where I was on the field,” Washington said. “I saw the first-down marker. The only thing I thought was, ‘I have to get it.’”
Washington fought his way to the first down to extend the drive. Two plays later, he leapt high to catch a pass at the sideline and got his feet inbounds for
Another Duran completion moved the ball to the Turlock 7 where Avila came in to score the game-tying touchdown.
“You just get in survival mode,” Duran said. “You have to find someone open. It felt pretty good because we had new life. We got to go to overtime and we got the win.”