In any football game, there are certain plays, or missed plays, that later decide the outcome of which team walks away the victor and which team walks away with the loss.
This was the case as Friday night the Turlock High Bulldogs (2-3) dropped another nail-biter, this time to the Tracy High Bulldogs (3-2) 41-43 in front of a packed crowd at Joe Debely Stadium.
What seems to be a recurring theme this season for Turlock, they trailed early by big numbers. It was 27-7 Tracy with just over 6 minutes left in the first half when things began to finally click for both the Turlock offense and defense.
Following a Tracy score, Turlock quarterback Bubba Moreno connected with receiver Jeffery Hines for a 78-yard touchdown pass with 5:14 left in the half.
After allowing a Tracy field goal, Turlock closed out the half with a brilliant 8-play, nearly 2-and-a-half minute, 60-yard drive led by Moreno who completed 4 passes for 37 yards and ran the ball once for 11 yards. The drive was capped off by star running back Andrew Lopez who punched the ball in from 5 yards out to Tracy’s lead to 30-20. Running back Andy Jennings added a two-point conversion rush to keep Turlock within one score at 30-22 at the half.
The second half was a classic high school football dog fight between two very competitive and very strong willed teams.
The third quarter opened with a Moreno interception that led to a Tracy 37-22 lead, but on the next Turlock offensive possession Moreno connected with Hines 3 times for 42 yards and an outstanding 21-yard touchdown pass-catch on a diving fade to the corner of the end zone to make the score 37-28 Tracy.
Despite two steps forward, Turlock took one step back. On the ensuing two-point conversion Turlock dropped a pass to make the score a touchdown difference. That drop, along with other plays would later bite Turlock in the backside.
On Tracy’s next possession Jennings, while playing on defense, came up with a big fumble recovery. But the offense went four and out after the turnover.
Again the Turlock defense stepped up when defensive back Alex Pallios made an interception thanks to a tipped ball by fellow defensive back Danny Velasquez.
But once again the Turlock offense came up empty and punted. The Turlock defense forced a Tracy punt thanks to a third down swatted pass by defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson.
One Turlock’s ensuing offensive possession another dropped ball hurt the team. On what looked to be a developing inside screen, Turlock dropped a ball and it landed into a Tracy defensive back’s hands, who took the ball for a pick-six touchdown. Tracy’s two-point conversion failed and Turlock then trailed 43-28 with 11:12 left in the game.
But as Turlock has proved all season long, they are extremely resilient and no matter the opponent’s lead, Turlock is always in the game. On their ensuing possession running back Andrew Lopez broke open for a 42-yard run to set up Jennings for his second TD run of the game, this time from the 2-yard line to make the score 43-35 with the extra point.
The Turlock defense forced a Tracy punt and the offense had a chance to tie the game, trailing by 8 with about 5:30 left from their own 20-yard line.
Moreno connected with Hines for 23 yards and then on the next play Lopez had the one of the best plays of the game as he busted a 57-yard touchdown sprint up the middle to make the game 43-41 Tracy.
A successful two-point conversion by Turlock and the game could have been headed to overtime.
On Turlock’s first try, they converted the play but then the dreaded penalty flag came out and the play was nullified. On Turlock’s next try the conversion failed.
Unfortunately Tracy was able to knock out a few first downs and run out the clock on Turlock’s dreams of a comeback win.
Despite Turlock’s second consecutive tough loss — mainly at the hands of dropped balls and missed opportunities — there were some positives.
Offensively they gained 508 total yards. Moreno was 16 of 30 for 219 yards with 2 TDs and 2 INTs. Workhorse Lopez was simply outstanding, carrying the ball 19 times for 226 yards rushing. Hines gained 162 yards receiving on 8 catches.
Going into league play battle tested, it is likely Turlock will be ready. Tracy had many star players and outstanding athletes and a team similar to them will likely be the Merced High Bears, who are favored by many to win the Central California Conference.
Next week Turlock will be off, but the following week they will clash with the Golden Valley Cougars at Golden Valley High School in Merced, Oct. 10, 7:30 p.m. Turlock will later face Merced High at home on Oct. 31 before going into the Annual Harvest Bowl with Pitman.