For a stunning upset to take place like the one on Friday night in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section, which saw unbeaten and state No. 11 St. Mary’s of Stockton lose to 7-4 Turlock, it not only required belief by the upsetting team but many plays to go its way in the final minutes. Just one of them that went for St. Mary’s would have meant a different outcome.
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There might have been a bigger win in the late 1940s when Turlock High had back-to-back unbeaten seasons (1948-49), but the Turlock Journal proclaimed on Saturday morning that the Bulldogs’ 51-50 upset over previous 10-0 St. Mary’s of Stockton was the “biggest win in program history.”
This is a school, however, that goes back more than 100 years, so head coach James Peterson said it was “the biggest win in the school’s modern era.”
The scope of the victory – and how unlikely it was – requires a look at what the two teams had done prior to Friday’s CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I quarterfinal played at St. Mary’s.
The Bulldogs started off the season with a 14-7 win over a Rocklin team that was No. 2 in the Sacramento area to begin, but then went through a tough stretch of three losses, including 49-0 to Clovis West of Fresno and 59-22 to Manteca. There also was a 24-22 loss in the Central California Conference to Downey of Modesto, which was another 10-0 team that lost on Friday (to Granite Bay in the SJS D2 playoffs).
St. Mary’s answered some questions about how it would do with a new quarterback and how to replace graduated standout Jadyn Marshall early on with a resounding 47-7 win over Central Catholic of Modesto. Then came a historic 45-35 win over De La Salle of Concord, still the most famous program in Northern California.
There were some who thought that the Rams might even have earned the No. 1 seed for the D1 section bracket since their win over De La Salle was by more of a margin than Folsom’s, and since Folsom has a loss to Serra (San Mateo). That didn’t happen, but all of those outcomes did cause St. Mary’s to get a No. 11 state ranking last week (just in front of No. 12 De La Salle).
Turnovers by Central Catholic and De La Salle helped cause those results in favor of St. Mary’s and in the game played on Friday the Bulldogs didn’t have one until late in the game (one also that was evened out with 18 seconds left). The St. Mary’s defense just needed one more play to escape with the win and wasn’t able to get it.
“You’ve just to give all the credit to them,” said St. Mary’s head coach Tony Franks. “They did a great job.”
So, how did it happen?
First, there has to be belief by the team looking to get the upset that it can realistically compete with the other team and not only compete but have a chance to win. Second, the leading player or players have to have the best performances they’ve ever had. And third, there has to be a little luck that goes in the upsetting team’s direction.
For Turlock on this night, the players at the end were repeatedly shouting, “Why Not Us?” They thought they left a lot of points off the board when they lost to Downey by two points that decided the league title. And they had played very well on both sides of the ball in a 35-0 victory over Edison of Stockton in a first-round game. The momentum was building to keep improving. It wasn’t like Central Catholic playing a game at national powerhouse St. John Bosco. There was no chance for an upset there. There was a chance here and the Bulldogs were ready to take it.
“We’ve been working hard since our last game from last season to have a game like this,” said Turlock senior quarterback Cole Gilbert. “Playing the hard preseason that we did also helped.”
For a player to have the performance of his life, Gilbert certainly qualified. He had a 317-yard passing game against Central of Fresno and a 156-yard rushing game against Enochs of Modesto, but on this night he was spectacular in both passing and rushing. He finished 19 of 33 passing for 321 yards and he rushed for 145 yards on 11 carries. Gilbert also had four TDs passing and two TDs rushing plus he caught two passes for 26 yards and one score.
Despite its huge wins over Central Catholic and De La Salle, St. Mary’s has had surprisingly close games at halftime of some recent games, including 14-7 in their regular season finale vs Lincoln of Stockton and 28-27 in a league game against Tracy. The Rams rolled in the second half of those games, and their offense did again vs Turlock. It was just that its defense couldn’t stop the Bulldogs’ offense.
With a slim 28-27 lead at halftime of this game, St. Mary’s rolled down the field to start the third quarter and scored on a 45-yard TD pass from Samson Hunkin to Brooks Wheatley. But Turlock came right back on a short 43-yard drive set up by a 57-yard kickoff return by Peter Mello. That drive concluded on a trick play when Vincent Gonzales threw back to Gilbert for a four-yard score. At that point, the Bulldogs needed to go for a two-point conversion to tie the score and got it on a run by Gilbert.
Trailing 43-35, St. Mary’s appeared to take control of the game with back-to-back TDs for a 50-43 lead with 7:30 left in the game. The first TD was on a 2-yard dive by junior running back Asante Carter. Then after a rare stop by the Rams’ defense, Carter scored again on a 1-yard run.
St. Mary’s even had a chance to extend its lead later in the fourth quarter after junior Joshua Watkins came up with an interception of Gilbert. The Rams got no points after that turnover, however, on a missed 37-yard field goal with 3:49 left.
“I thought that was the key to the whole end,” Franks said. “We needed points there for a two-score lead. That was unfortunate.”
Matthew Kain’s field goal attempt had plenty of distance, but here’s where the luck came in for the Bulldogs. It drifted just barely to the right. Just barely to the other direction and it’s a 10-point lead and a very, very likely St. Mary’s win.
Fired up with a chance to score at the end, Gilbert threw a 33-yard pass to Mello to get the Bulldogs to the 35-yard line, then he ran for 12 to get to the 24. Then with 1:11 left, Gilbert threw a perfect pass down the middle of the field that Mello hauled in just in front of a Rams defender for a 24-yard touchdown.
Still trailing 50-49, Peterson already knew he was going for a two-point conversion and already had a play he hadn’t used yet. Gilbert got the snap and looked like he was going to run for it like he had two other times. He instead stopped, hopped and popped a pass over the defense to junior Andrew Johnson, who caught it for a 51-50 lead.
St. Mary’s still had time left, of course, to get in position for Kain to perhaps win the game on a field goal. After a short kickoff, Hunkin completed three short passes and the Rams already were at the Turlock 32-yard line with 30.7 seconds left. On a second-and-10 play, he tried to go for a deeper completion over the middle, but on that one Johnson (the same player who caught the go-ahead two-pointer) jumped in front, grabbed the interception and sealed the upset.
“We learned from the mistakes that we made at the end against Downey,” Peterson said. “We knew we were going to fight until the end.”
St. Mary’s has a young team that probably should have learned much from the defeat. Hunkin and Carter are both juniors and both stood out. Hunkin threw for three touchdowns and ran for another. Carter had three TD runs and one TD catch.
Turlock will now head to Oak Ridge of El Dorado Hills on Friday for the SJS D1 semifinals. St. Mary’s will now not only have to watch that one from the sidelines, but on the other side it will be Central Catholic (a team the Rams beat 47-7) playing in the other semifinal against Folsom.
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