TURLOCK — The physical impact of Kevin Kellerher's return to the Buhach Colony lineup was obvious against Pitman.
The three-year defensive lineman instantly became the biggest player on the Thunder defense and provided a much-needed presence up the middle that's been lacking the first six weeks of the season.
Feeding off Kellerher's energy, the Thunder defense shut out one of the Sac-Joaquin Section's top scoring offenses in a 10-0 Central California Conference-opening victory Friday night at Joe Debely Stadium.
The Thunder defense came into the game yielding an average of 39 points. But Kellerher's return to the lineup gave Buhach Colony an emotional lift that provided a much-maligned defense what it needed to shut down the Pitman offense.
"We knew what he could do for us in terms of his play, but he also provided this emotional lift," BC co-head coach Kevin Swartwood said. "Wednesday was really the first time all season he's been able to suit up and get after it, and we could feel the difference out there."
Odds are Pitman (4-2, 0-1 CCC) felt it, too.
Buhach Colony (3-3, 1-0 CCC) served notice it would be a different kind of evening by forcing a fumble on the Pride's opening possession.
Neither offense could get much footing in the first half with BC's best drive ending at the Pitman 39 line on a Justin Stefani (15 carries, 74 yards) fumble.
Pitman answered with a drive that stalled at the Thunder 17 with a missed 34-yard field goal.
That sent the game into intermission scoreless.
Things turned BC's way on Pitman's opening possession of the second half. The Pride went three-and-out and Austin Ekizian blocked the ensuing punt.
The Thunder took over at the Pitman 9-yard line with a first-and-goal, but had to settle for an Aundre Sherman 23-yard field goal.
"The blocked punt turned the entire game around," Swartwood said. "We weren't happy just getting the field goal, but it grabbed the momentum."
Quintin Levesque (9 carries, 107 yards) provided the back-breaking play on Buhach's next series, taking a fly sweep 78 yards for a TD to make it 10-0 at the end of three quarters.
BC limited Pitman's rushing attack to just 57 yards in the second half and never allowed the Pride inside its 32 after the break.
"This game meant the world to me," said Kellerher, a senior. "I've been out so long.
"My teammates and coaches have supported me through it all and I wanted to get out and give back to them.
"People have questioned this defense, but this shutout should answer some of those questions."