SACRAMENTO -- For a change, Modesto Junior College meant business in the first half Saturday afternoon.
But this time, a poor third quarter cost the Pirates dearly.
Modesto, at one point leading 35-14, collapsed after halftime and lost 56-49 to American River. The Pirates (4-4, 1-2), must beat Fresno and San Joaquin Delta in their final two Valley Conference games to be bowl-eligible.
"It was very winnable. We didn't play consistently good enough," MJC coach Sam Young said. "We didn't get the breaks to stay in it."
The game featured wild momentum swings, none bigger than ARC's in the third quarter. Modesto failed to even pick up a first down while ARC flipped a 35-21 halftime deficit into a 56-35 lead.
The Beavers (6-2, 2-1) opened the second half with a touchdown, recovered an onside kick to set up another score, and eventually scored five unanswered touchdowns. MJC's only turnover was followed by American River's final TD with 12:30 left.
Modesto countered for a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns one rushing and one throwing by quarterback TeeJay Gordon but did not threaten to score in the final minutes.
The Pirates were encouraged by a fast start, a reversal of form this season. Modesto notched touchdowns on its first five possessions to build a 21-point cushion.
Running back Herbert Whitehurst (21 carries, 119 yards) had two touchdowns and picked up the slack after a second-quarter shoulder injury to Marcus Hernandez. Whitehurst's second TD, a 4-yard run, increased the Pirates' lead to 35-14.
American River ignited its comeback late in the first half on Mike Hicks' 59-yard bomb to Diondre Batson.
Modesto slumped to its third loss by a touchdown or less.
"Fresno and Delta will have to go through us," Young said. "We're the spoilers now."