MJC football focused on finishing

ragostini@modbee.comSeptember 6, 2012 

“Finish the game” has been heard more than once this week by the Modesto Junior College Pirates.

Their season-opening 51-35 victory over Merced College last weekend was complicated by two late scores by the Blue Devils, one on defense. Concerned, MJC coach Sam Young redeployed his first-team offense to freeze the final three-plus minutes.

The lesson is a perfect one for the early season if it’s heeded. If not, red flags will rise when the schedule toughens later this month.

“A strong start and unfocused finish,” MJC coach Sam Young assessed. “The scoreboard can’t dictate our attitude and performance. We need to finish the ballgame properly.”

Modesto will seek a 60-minute effort Saturday night versus Hartnell. Game time is 6 o’clock at Salinas High.

Hartnell blew a 21-point fourth-quarter lead, turned it over at the 4-yard line in overtime and was beaten 43-37 by Los Medanos in Pittsburg last week.

The Panthers went 8-3 last season — their most victories since 1992 — and clinched a share of the the Coast Conference title with a win over Monterey Peninsula in Week 10. Eight weeks before, MJC controlled the game on the ground to stop Hartnell 37-22.

“It got away from them (Hartnell) on the road last week. I’m sure they’ll be ready for us,” Young said. “They’re unconventional with their nickel defense and run-and-shoot offense. That makes it problematic for us.”

Before the final five minutes, the Pirates rolled against Merced. They outgained the Blue Devils 655-396 and, more important, outrushed them 441-173. Modesto cashed in on early Merced mistakes to build a 21-0 lead.

Freshman running back Marcus Hernandez totaled 146 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, all but two after halftime. Sophomore Aaron Fields, who’s still nursing a sore groin, netted 127 yards on 17 attempts.

Young said Fields, whose practice time is limited, will play against Hartnell.

“His health will be an issue to us. He’s still not 100 percent,” Young said. “It’s hard to believe when you watch him play, but it’s true.”

Left tackle Chris Holloway reinjured the knee that bothered him all last season and exited from the Merced game before halftime. He’s not expected to see action this week.

The Pirates mixed and matched after Holloway’s injury. Sophomore Marco Camacho switched to left tackle while Ivan Delgado and Joe Hallam split time at left guard.

NOTES

Saturday night begins the Pirates’ only back-to-back road games. Next week, they’ll travel to Laney of Oakland for their only Friday night game (Sept. 14). ... Adrian Laurel, a freshman linebacker from Patterson, led the Modesto defense last week with eight tackles.

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