Last year, Turlock High School had a seemingly easy win over longtime football rival Modesto in the bag.
The Bulldogs held a cozy 41-14 lead in the third quarter before the Panthers came storming back to get within 41-40 on a touchdown as time ran out. Modesto went for the win with a two-point conversion and came up short.
It was a season-changing performance for both teams. Modesto gained confidence and went on to win five of its last six regular-season games, while Turlock lost five of six.
“It might’ve been the most important game of our season last year,” said Modesto coach Richie Alkire, whose team went on to capture the Modesto Metro Conference championship. “We were reeling after the Pitman game last year (a 63-12 loss) and Turlock did the same thing to us in the first half. I really feel like the season was kind of in the balance.”
Turlock had a similar performance last week. After falling behind powerful Clovis West (Fresno) 21-0, the Bulldogs ran off 27 unanswered points to stun the Central Section’s third-ranked team – a team that beat Central California Conference-favorite Merced 49-39 two weeks earlier.
“It was a light-bulb moment for everybody,” said Turlock coach James Peterson. “My challenge to the players this week is for them to do it for four quarters.”
The teams meet for the 117th time in this storied rivalry – dubbed the Turkey Bowl – when they take the field tonight at Downey’s Chuck Hughes Stadium.
Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.
Turlock will bring a definite size advantage into the game, while Modesto owns the edge in team speed.
“They’re pretty athletic, too,” Alkire said of Turlock. “Just because you’re big doesn’t mean you can’t be quick, too. A big part of it will be who can control the style and the tempo to some degree. If we do that, I like our chances. We’ve got to be who we are and play our game. If we do that, good things will happen, and if we don’t, it’ll be a long, long night because they’re a great team.”
The focal point will be Modesto quarterback Nathan Phillips, averaging 392 yards of total offense per game. He’s completed 77 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and just one interception. He’s also averaging 151 yards per game on the ground and has three rushing touchdowns.
If the Bulldogs can contain Phillips, they’re home free. If not, they’re in for trouble.
“He’s wild,” Peterson said of Phillips. “That kid, he can really move. He’s like a machine. He’s got great feet and makes great cuts.”
More than 40 years later, the Patriots get their shot at redemption when they travel to David Patton Field to face Central Catholic in a nonconference matchup.
“First of all, they’re very athletic, they’re very well coached and they have a rich tradition there at their place,” said Beyer coach Doug Severe, who also serves as the Patriots’ athletic director. “We’re going to have our hands full. We have to be consistent offensively and consistent defensively. I believe if we can do that, it’s go to be a battle. But we’ve definitely got our hands full. I’ll have to get on the guy that scheduled them.”
Um, that would be you, Mr. Athletic Director.