The Modesto Junior College Pirates will push the reset key Saturday night and relaunch their football season.
They've had a week off for reflection the three season-opening wins, the difficult losses to San Mateo and Butte, the often powerful offense and the mistake-ridden first quarters.
"Sometimes I think we're a little scared coming out," running back Marcus Hernandez said. "Then we realize we can play just as good as them."
That considered, the Pirates (3-2) will begin the Valley Conference season with their homecoming game Saturday night against College of the Sequoias (4-1).
A jolt of early energy, a missing ingredient this fall, wouldn't hurt the men in blue. They've been outscored 65-28 by their last four opponents during the opening 15 minutes.
Thus, they've trailed by at least two scores for four straight games. That Modesto managed to split 2-2 speaks to its resilience and its potent attack.
"We've got to minimize the big plays and get used to the speed of the game," MJC coach Sam Young said. "After the last two games, we know what it takes to compete."
A case in point was MJC's last game, a heartbreaking 45-38 loss at Butte. The Pirates pounded the Roadrunners for four straight touchdowns and a 38-38 tie during the fourth quarter. After Butte regained the lead, Modesto drove to the 1-yard line where Hernandez fumbled.
It was MJC's only turnover, and it victimized one of its standout freshmen. Hernandez, a straight-ahead runner, scored four touchdowns that day. He's rushed for 533 yards and 10 touchdowns at the season's halfway point.
"I wished we didn't have a bye last week," Hernandez said. "I think we're going to come out mad."
They might have company. Sequoias was 4-0 and off to its best start in seven years before it committed a bushel of mistakes during a 30-27 loss at home to De Anza. The Giants yielded a pair of field goals in the game's final 10 minutes.
Modesto and COS probably will exchange points and yards in mass quantities. The Pirates are ranked second in Northern California with their 498-yard average in total offense while the Giants are fifth at 480.
The MJC defense will be challenged by 6-foot-4 quarterback Tyler Ferguson, the biggest reason for COS' improvement. Ferguson, a Division I prospect from Bakersfield, has passed for 270 yards per game, third-best in NorCal.
"He (Ferguson) extends the play well," Young said. "COS is running the spread offense now. It will make for a good game."
NOTES Kickoff at MJC Stadium on Saturday night is 6 o'clock. Pirate flags will decorate the stadium, and kids will be entertained by face-painting, a playland and arts and crafts. ... Fans are encouraged to bring canned food to the game for charity. Each can is worth one ticket toward a drawing for a Pirate Pride gift basket worth about $150. There is no limit on tickets. ...
Tackle Chris Holloway (6-9, 315) has not seen action since he aggravated a knee injury during the first half of the opener against Merced. The Pirates hoped he could return for the start of league play, but Young said he's not ready. ... Modesto twice has beaten COS since the Pirates returned to the Valley in 2011.
All Valley Conference teams had a week off to prepare for their respective league openers Saturday. Here's a thumbnail look at all six teams:
FRESNO (4-1, at Sierra) Defending champion struggled to beat Merced and Reedley. The Rams showed off their pedigree by building a 28-0 lead against reigning state champion San Francisco before losing 35-31 in the final 9 seconds.
AMERICAN RIVER (4-1, at Delta) The league's newest member had won a nation-leading 22 straight games (25-1 over three seasons) before they were beaten at home by San Francisco 52-33. Coach Jerry Haflich features a classy tailback in Devontae Booker.
DELTA (4-1, home vs. ARC) The Mustangs' two designated opponents were identical to Modesto's. Both results were noteworthy a 33-21 loss to Butte after leading by two possesssions, and a 29-28 upset win at previously unbeaten San Mateo.
SEQUOIAS (4-1, at MJC) Second-year coach Robert Dougherty has the Giants pointing upward, though they should have beaten De Anza two weeks ago. COS was 2-4 in the Valley and 4-6 overall in 2011.
MJC (3-2, home vs. Sequoias) The losses to San Mateo and Butte carried a positive spin the development of freshman running backs Marcus Hernandez and Herbert Whitehurst to offset the injury absence of Aaron Fields.
SIERRA (2-3, home vs. Fresno) The Wolverines opened with a big win over Sacramento, lost three straight, then beat Foothill 44-34 two weeks ago. They come to MJC Stadium next week. The Pirate sophomores no doubt remember their loss to Sierra last year.