Practices at Modesto Junior College this week have opened with, easily enough, a kickoff. After that, the Pirates scrimmage head-to-head.
If this appears like MJC is trying to assimilate an actual game, you're right.
"Keep it close and win it in the fourth quarter is our recipe," MJC coach Sam Young said. "We can't dig out of that hole again."
Young referred to the Pirates' season-long problems in the first quarter. Their 17-0 deficit last week against Sierra keynoted a costly 38-33 Valley Conference loss, a result Modesto can't afford to repeat Saturday afternoon at American River.
The Pirates (4-3, 1-1) have been outscored 103-49 during the opening 15 minutes, which is why they've tweaked their practice regimen. The prospect of a day game this weekend also may escort MJC out of its early-game woes.
At this point, MJC will use anything to change the mojo on game-day.
"We're getting our body clock ready," Young said. "We played pretty well during the day against Butte (a 45-38 loss on Sept. 29), and we were on a bus for three hours."
But even on that afternoon, MJC somehow rallied from a 28-point deficit to draw even before Butte's go-ahead touchdown. The Pirates surely would greet an early lead at American River like found money.
The Beavers (5-2, 1-1), first-time members of the Valley, have made a good first impression. Their 31-21 win last week over perennial power Fresno turned heads, though the Rams appear to be down a notch over previous seasons.
Still, ARC scored the game's final 21 points on a trio of touchdown passes by Jonathan Kodama. Running back Devontae Booker (130 carries, 999 yards, 11 touchdowns) is one of the league's best.
It was a good bounce-back win for American River after losses the previous two weeks to City College of San Francisco and league-leading San Joaquin Delta.
"American River has playmakers in their running backs and wide receivers," Young said. "Booker breaks tackles and runs away from people."
Modesto is ranked third in Northern California with 489 yards per game, followed in fifth by ARC at 456. A lot of offense is expected Saturday.
"We feel that anybody can beat anybody else in the league," Young said. "Nothing has really changed. It's all psychological. There's plenty of motivation for everybody."
NOTES Kickoff at American River is 1 p.m. ... Sophomore running back Aaron Fields (groin injury), who's been out for about a month, returned to practice this week. Young said he might be available for the season-ending games against Fresno and San Joaquin Delta. ... American River and MJC have not met since the Pirates' 56-22 win in 2001.