In a heart-pounding upset for the ages, the Turlock High School Bulldogs upset the Oakdale High School Mustangs 21-20 at Joe Debeley Stadium Friday evening.
It was a game that experts considered a foregone conclusion.
The Mustangs were ranked No. 71 in the state by high school football gurus MaxPreps. The Bulldogs? A measly No. 309.
There was only one problem: nobody told Turlock High School Head Coach James Peterson that his team was supposed to lose.
“I never thought that we were going to lose this game, all week,” Peterson said.
Turlock High simply executed the game plan, he said. Everything went as expected.
Of course, Peterson didn't expect to win by the thinnest of margins – just a single point.
It was Oakdale who asserted dominance early, moving the ball 76 yards on the game's opening possession. Not even a third-down stop by Turlock senior lineman Issac Alameda could prevent the Mustangs from scoring; Oakdale went for it on fourth-and-two, and sophomore runningback Darus Nelson rushed for 17. Junior runningback Brock Whiting punched the ball in for a touchdown on their very next play, dashing 13 yards for a touchdown.
The Bulldogs' response was shaky at best – a three-and-out possession, culminating in a fourth-and-25 punt after a sack and a holding call. The game appeared to be going as the pundits predicted.
But the Mustangs opened the door – and set the tenor for a game of Oakdale gaffes – when Whiting fumbled a catch from senior QB Dillon Tamburino. That ball was recovered by Bulldogs runningback Jevan Hogan on what was just one of at least three game-changing plays for the senior.
Oakdale added to their lead at the start of the second quarter, taking the score to 14-0 on a 12-yard Max Stevens run.
But the Bulldogs bounced back that time, driving 80 yards to score a touchdown on a 19-yard pass from senior QB Sean Downs to senior tight end Patrick Green, a player considered one of the best prospects in the nation. Turlock converted a fourth-and-two on that drive, with Downs drawing the over-aggressive Mustangs offsides.
Oakdale marched down the field again, nearly scoring a third touchdown on a deep pass down the sidelines broken up by senior defensive back Gavin Gaffney. The Mustangs then settled for a 45-yard field goal attempt which missed, leading to halftime.
Turlock struck first in the second half, scoring with 2:27 remaining in the third quarter on an option pitch play from Downs to junior runningback Bubba Moreno. An extra point from junior kicker Sergio Lopez knotted the game at 14-14.
It took Oakdale only three plays to get back on top, with Stevens running in untouched from 27 yards out. But a chop block on the PAT set up a 25-yard second attempt, and a botched snap culminated in a failed two-point conversion, giving the Mustangs only a six-point lead.
That miscue proved costly just two plays later, when Hogan scampered 60 yards around the right edge, outrunning everyone on the field to score what would become the deciding touchdown.
“I was just listening to my quarterback all day,” Hogan said after the game.
Downs said to trust his blockers and to make his first cut. Hogan did, and left the Mustangs behind him.
“I just had to keep trucking,” Hogan said.
Lopez then kicked what would become the game-winning extra point with 11:18 left in the fourth quarter.
Oakdale had another chance to score, driving to the Turlock five-yard line before Nelson fumbled a ball recovered by Turlock junior defensive back Isiah Mendoza.
With 7:54 to play, Turlock engineered another long drive, bleeding time off the clock until the Bulldogs were forced to punt near the two-minute warning.
But on Oakdale's very first play, Hogan came up big once again with an interception of a Tamburino pass that effectively iced the game. Hogan credited his coaches with interception, saying they told him to expect the pass and to read the tight end.
Turlock formally put an end to the contest six plays later, after Downs drew another offsides call to get a fresh set of downs and knelt three times.
An Oakdale High School coach was salty as his team left the field Friday night, visibly frustrated his team had been upset.
“They know they escaped,” he said to his players. “We beat them up. We did a lot of damage.”
Peterson shrugged off the comments, saying that though Oakdale is a tough team, the game went as his team expected.
Turlock will next take on Sonora at 7 p.m. Friday, at Sonora High School. The contest should be another tough matchup for the Bulldogs, especially playing at elevation.
“We've got another tough team next week,” Hogan said. “We're going to hit the books, learn their offense, and we'll be ready.”