Trailing by one point with a minute left in the game, Modesto High School faced a tough decision: kick an extra point to tie the game, or go for two and try to beat Turlock High.
The Panthers went for two and didn't get it, handing the Bulldogs a 41-40 victory in the 115th meeting of these two longtime rivals.
“That's the right call,” Turlock High Head Coach James Peterson said. “You're on the road. Go for the win.”
Panthers quarterback Tiki Tonga sailed a pass over his wide-open receiver, Lovell Collins, on that fateful failed two-point conversion.
At the start of the game, it seemed as if the Bulldogs might win in a landslide. Modesto fumbled, went three-and-out, and was intercepted on its first three drives, while Turlock racked up three straight touchdowns.
With a 21-0 lead on the back of a 3 yard Bubba Moreno sweep to the left, a 70-yard run from quarterback Sean Downs, and a gutsy five-yard run up the gut from Andrew Lopez, hurdling over Modesto defenders and reaching out for the end-zone, the game appeared well in-hand.
“I was expecting more of that tonight, but it ended up being an all-nighter,” Peterson said.
Modesto struck back, scoring on a fourth and ten from the Bulldogs' 43, Tonga connecting with Collins on a spread pass to the left slot for a touchdown.
And then Turlock started having trouble holding on to the ball. Jevan Hogan fumbled to end a drive, then Moreno. The Bulldogs scored on a 8 yard completion from Downs to Jacob Mabie, but then it was back to the turnover game.
Hogan muffed a punt, giving Modesto possession on the Turlock 22. Tonga ran in from two yards out for the score, capitalizing on the mistake.
The score stood 27-14 because of those mistakes, despite the Panthers only securing two first downs to that point.
Downs would secure another Bulldogs score before the half expired, hooking up with nationally recognized recruit Patrick Green for a ten-yard touchdown pass. And Hogan opened up the second half with a 55-yard dash to the endzone. But Turlock would not score again, after taking a 41-21 lead just seconds into the second-half.
A different Modesto High team took the field after the break, emphasizing constant dive plays from Byron Perkins. The new strategy secured three first downs on an 80-yard opening drive, ending in a five yard Tonga touchdown pass to Tyler Kafka. On the ensuing kickoff Hogan fumbled once again, with the ball picked up by Collins and run in for a Panthers score.
Tonga ran in another touchdown from 33 yards out, but Hogan redeemed himself by blocking the point-after attempt – the single point margin of victory.
Modesto trailed by 7 with 3:42 remaining in the game, and the ball at their own 27. The Panthers crossed the field in just over two minutes, scoring on a 2-yard Perkins dive and cutting the margin to 41-40. With the missed two-point conversion, that was score as the game ended – following a couple of Downs kneel downs.
Thursday's game was attended by two star Turlock High School alumni: Tom Brandstater, a former NFL quarterback, and Kevin Kramer, who just led the University of California, Los Angeles to a NCAA World Series Title. Both are among the best quarterbacks in Bulldogs' history.
Brandstater watched from the sidelines, offering a few pointers to Downs along the way.
“When you can get advice from a guy that's that good, it's pretty great,” Downs said.
With the win, the Bulldogs (4-0) remain unbeaten, and are ranked No. 133 in the state by high school football gurus MaxPreps.com. Modesto falls to .500 (2-2), and a No. 428 ranking.
Turlock will travel to West Valley High School in Cottonwood (Shasta County) to take on the perennially contending Eagles (2-1) on Friday. MaxPreps.com ranks the Eagles No. 190 in the state.
Turlock Bulldogs QB Sean Downs
Turlock Bulldogs Bubba Moreno
Turlock Bulldogs Jevan Hogan