The Tenth Annual Harvest Bowl between the Turlock Bulldogs and Pitman Pride was everything it was built up to be and more – a game with numerous pivotal plays, tough decisions, and controversy that determined the outcome.
In a tight, back-and-forth contest the Pride escaped Joe Debely Stadium with a 27-25 victory and an anticipated playoff berth.
For the Bulldogs, an early decision not to attempt a field goal played into the outcome. After starting from their own one-yard line, a Bulldogs drive stalled at the Pitman 19-yard line with two minutes left in the first quarter. The Bulldogs elected not to kick a field goal on a fourth-and-five and failed to convert, turning the ball over on downs.
Those three points would prove costly, but that wouldn’t be the only game-deciding decision the Bulldogs would make. The Pride (7-3, 3-2 CCC) would capitalize on Turlock's (5-5, 1-4 CCC) decisions throughout the game.
On the Pride’s ensuing drive Pitman marched down the field and scored on a Josh Vercelli one-yard TD run to lead 7-0.
Late in the second quarter, the Bulldogs pulled out their bag of tricks with a hook-and-ladder play, which set up a first-and-goal at the Pride six-yard line. On the next play Turlock senior quarterback Sean Downs looked to pass, but he couldn’t find an open receiver so he tucked the ball and scampered down the right hash for a five-yard TD with nine seconds left in the first half.
On the ensuing extra-point attempt an offsides penalty was called on Pitman before the snap, and Turlock head coach James Peterson made another big decision by calling for a two-point conversion attempt. Downs dropped back and completed a quick pass to junior running back Bubba Moreno, who was stopped just inches shy of the goal line and the Bulldogs missed out on two more points.
“There was a lot that happened on that play. We had planned all week to be aggressive and that’s what we were doing, but Moreno was stopped just short,” said Peterson, noting that kicks were no sure thing due to injuries. “Our long snapper and back-up long snapper were both hurt. We planned for two long snappers but we don’t really have a third long snapper.”
The injuries to the long snappers would haunt the Bulldogs in this Harvest Bowl. For Pitman, however, it was an unforeseen advantage that played into their margin of victory.
But it wasn’t Pitman's only advantage- the Pride had their unstoppable rushing offense.
Led by senior running backs Drew Lewis and Logan Wolfley the Pride churned out 374 yards on the ground with their relentless Wing-T offense. Lewis ran for 167 and one touchdown, and Wolfley rushed for 128 yards with a touchdown. Chance Hagar chipped in 53 rushing yards and a touchdown as well.
Pitman took a 14-6 lead after a 75-yard drive to open the second half. Then the Bulldogs responded with a 60-yard drive capped by a 5-yard TD pass from Downs to Moreno with 4:12 left in the third. Again, the Bulldogs went for a two-point conversion, and again they failed- seven points lost.
Of course it wouldn’t be a classic Harvest Bowl without a little bit of luck. The next time the Pride had possession they failed to get a first down and elected to punt, but the snap went flying over the punter’s head. As the punter rushed back to regain the ball he quickly got off a substantial punt, just over the charging Bulldogs special teams defenders.
The Bulldogs responded on their next possession to open the final quarter with a 2-yard TD run by senior running back Jevan Hogan. But, yet again, they failed to convert a two-point conversion – nine points lost.
With just under nine minutes left the Pride took a 20-18 lead after a five-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, which was set up by a 43 yard scamper by Lewis. Chance Hagar scored the touchdown on a three-yard run, but Turlock blocked the extra-point attempt.
Then came the controversy. With under five minutes left in the game, the Bulldogs drove down the field to the Pride 14-yard line, where Downs threw a pass to Moreno near the left sideline. Moreno and a Pitman defender crashed into each other and Moreno went down- but a referee flag went up. Moreno was flagged for leading with the helmet, an extremely rare penalty for an offensive player.
“I’ve played football since 1994 and I’ve coached for 11 years and I’ve never seen that called,” Peterson said. “It is a shame that call was made. I really feel like they (the referees) took it away from us. Our hats off to Pitman, they played a really good game and they were really prepared. I’m very proud of how hard our guys played today.”
The penalty cost the Bulldogs a first down, and on the very next play Downs dropped back and his pass was tipped into the waiting arms of Pitman senior defensive back Bryce Silva for an interception.
Three plays later Wolfley broke free for an 89-yard TD run on a Statue of Liberty play to give Pitman a 26-18 lead with 1:51 second left in the epic contest. A successful Pitman extra point kick put the game on ice and out of reach for the Bulldogs, 27-18.
The Bulldogs made the game close, scoring a touchdown and extra point with 22 second left to trail by just two points – 27-25. Those missed nine points cost the Bulldogs the game, but the Pride won the game with their rushing and by capitalizing on Turlock decisions and mistakes.
Pride Head Coach Tom Tyler praised his team’s relentlessness and resilience after the game, and senior quarterback Wyatt Clapper lifted the trophy proclaiming “it’s ours” for Pitman.
The win means more than just a trophy for Pitman. It means a spot in the playoffs, with brackets set to be released at 4:30 p.m. Today
“The second season starts tomorrow,” Tyler told his players after the game.
With the loss, Turlock's playoff hopes were quashed. In his final game for the Bulldogs, Downs rushed for 91 yards with a TD and threw for 256 yards on 21 of 25 passing. Moreno had 142 yards receiving on nine receptions and one touchdown. Hogan had 44 rushing yards and two touchdowns.