Before the Modesto Junior College Pirates can right their ship, they must navigate through the first quarter.
MJC (3-1) has trailed by two possessions during the opening period of its last three games. The trend accelerated last week when the Pirates fell behind College of San Mateo 34-7, the prelude to a 60-35 loss.
Spotting opponents a boatload of points finally caught up to Modesto last week, and it surely won't work Saturday afternoon at No. 3-ranked Butte (4-0).
"I can't put my finger on it. I think we just come out over-aroused," head coach Sam Young said. "We need to align correctly and tackle better and not have silly penalties."
Butte, which has been rough on the Pirates in recent years it overwhelmed MJC 48-25 in the 2011 Graffiti Bowl appears to be its usual powerful self.
The Roadrunners fell behind at San Joaquin Delta 21-6 but dominated the second half for a 33-21 victory last week. Quarterback Nelson Fishback accounted for all five touchdowns, three passing and two rushing.
Both Delta and MJC, which shared second place last season in the Valley Conference, drew back-to-back trouble in Butte and San Mateo as their non-league opponents designated by the Northern California Football Coaches Association.
How MJC fares in Oroville will depend on how fast it forgets its problems on defense against San Mateo. The 60 points were the most given up by Modesto since it was beaten 73-7 by City College of San Francisco in 2003.
"Our plan is to stay the course," Young said. "We have a 24-hour rule. You've got 24 hours to be mad or sad, and after that, it's about the next opponent."
San Mateo parlayed matchup advantages, especially at wide receiver and the defensive line, into dominance.
That said, the Pirates showed some fight by pulling within 40-35 before the Bulldogs countered in the final period. For all their problems, the MJC offense did not suffer a turnover.
"I think we have to practice at a different pace to keep up with these teams who have better athletes," said freshman linebacker Adrian Laurel, who led the Modesto defense with nine tackles. "The game (against Butte) will show what kind of team we are."
The Pirates' overall goal, as they approach midseason, is to be at their best for the Valley opener at home against eighth-ranked Sequoias (4-0) on Oct. 13.
"I'd rather get a handle on our problems now than losing a league game and finding out about it," Young said.
NOTES Running back Aaron Fields underwent surgery last Friday to reattach a muscle to the bone near his groin. Young said Fields, the Pirates' fastest ball carrier, will miss at least the next four weeks. Injuries have slowed Fields who, when healthy, ignited MJC the last two seasons. He totaled nearly 1,100 yards and scored 13 touchdowns, fueled by a 7.8-yard average per attempt, in 10 games.
Kickoff at Butte is at 1 p.m., the first of four day games out of the last six for Modesto. ... The Pirates are currently averaging 292.8 yards per game. ... The Pirates are limping through injury issues at safety. Outside linebacker Malik Barnes is taking reps this week at the new position. ... Modesto received a lift last week from receiver Jordan Dabney, who caught two TD passes while he replaced David Gianesin (shoulder). Before the San Mateo game, Dabney had not caught a pass. Gianesin will return to the lineup.