Every time Bubba Moreno needed a reason to believe Turlock High had a chance to upset Clovis West, he looked to the press box roof where his dad was capturing the game on video.
Once their eyes met, dad would simply point to his heart, and Bubba would return the gesture.
Somehow, every player on the Bulldogs’ roster must have found their own inspiration, whether in the packed home stands or within, because that’s the only possible way Turlock could have found a way to turn a 21-point second quarter deficit into an astounding 27-21 victory Friday night over the heavily-favored Golden Eagles.
“I kept looking up there and he kept pointing to his heart,” Moreno said. “From the time I was four years old he’s always told me to play with my heart, to put everything I had into the game and never quit. That’s always stuck with me.”
It showed on offense, where the Bulldogs, behind Moreno’s 11-for-14, 134-yard, three-touchdown passing in the second half suddenly moved the ball against a team that was all but an immovable object in the first two quarters.
But it was an even grander turnaround on defense. Clovis West, after gaining 193 yards before intermission, was held to 13 total yards (minus-6 on the ground) in the second half.
Technically, Turlock switched from a cover-three defense that was a little soft over the middle to a tight cover-two that took away both the flats and the middle from the Clovis West no-huddle run-and-gun offense.
“I thought we could play with them,” said Turlock coach James Peterson. “We’re a physical team. We were letting our guys play more aggressive underneath in the second half, and that’s what happened on defense.”
Golden Eagles quarterback Kordell Hoffman, who sliced Turlock for 132 yards on 18 for 26 in the first half, completed three of 11 passes for 21 yards in the second half, and threw and interception that helped the Bulldogs grab the win.
The pick went to Jeffrey Hines, after the Bulldogs scored early in the fourth quarter to pull within 21-13. Hines stepped in front of a slant round and returned it 15 yards to the CW 20.
“We all push each other and keep each other positive,” Hines said. “We all say things to keep us going and we never give up. The crowd pumps us up and helps us big time.”
Three plays later, Moreno rolled right and found Hines on the sideline at the 7. Hines stiff-armed one tackler and tight-roped his way to the 3, from where his ball-first dive broke the goal line. Moreno hit Allen Padilla on a end-line drag for the two-point conversion, tying the game at 21-21 with 7:29 remaining.
Three plays later, Clovis West was forced to punt, giving Turlock possession at its own 43 with 6:42 left. The Bulldogs, with all the momentum, took 12 plays to score, with Moreno hitting Padilla on a third down from the 2 with 1:56 left on the same play that tied the game.
The conversion kick failed, but when the Golden Eagles failed to gain a first down, the improbable win belonged to Turlock.
“We came together as a team tonight,” Moreno said. “Every team has their problems and their differences, but this was the game where we came together. I think we proved it tonight that we’re coming for the CCC and we’ll be ready.”