Modesto Junior College football players galloped to the line of scrimmage like horses smelling the barn.
The huddle? A thing of the past. Wristbands? Quarterback TeeJay Gordon wears one just for looks. How fast? The Pirates often are ready for the snap before the officials.
"I'm just waiting for the referee to blow his whistle," Gordon said. "And then we go."
And so the Pirates went in their home opener Saturday night. Before the teams trudged to the halftime locker room, MJC ran off 49 plays from scrimmage and scored touchdowns on five of seven possessions.
The blitz resulted in a 34-0 lead and, after 400 total rushing yards, an eventual 61-28 pasting of Hartnell of Salinas. More than 75 black and white skull-and-crossbones flags decorated MJC Stadium on homecoming night while the Pirates (2-0) unveiled their faster-than-ever attack for about 2,000.
"This is the way we practice," slotback Ricky Fuentes said. "You just wear the defense down little by little. I love this offense."
Modesto sprinted to the line, then punished the Panthers inside the tackles with Anthony Cota (129 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns, James Sams (65 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns) and Marcus Hernandez (28 yards, 2 touchdowns).
Conversely, Fuentes kept Hartnell honest horizontally. The sophomore needed only 12 carries for his 140 yards on reverses and fly-sweeps that constantly out-flanked the defense.
Yet Fuentes failed to find the end zone until the fourth quarter. He took a different route, catching a short punt on the dead run and racing to his right 35 yards for MJC's ninth and final touchdown. His leap into the end zone, just inside the pylon, demonstrated the Pirates' overall dominance.
"I was working hard tonight," Fuentes said. "I wanted a TD."
Modesto, already one of California's busiest offenses the last two years, feels it must accelerate to keep pace in the Valley Conference. The Pirates opened 2012 with three convincing wins before slumping to 4-6, so there were many smiles but no gloating post-game.
"We made some positive strides tonight," head coach Sam Young said. "Finding the right combinations of personnel and going to our strengths will be our next steps."
Hartnell (1-1), which won its season opener last week for only the second time in the last 17 years, tried to extend possessions early in the game via fourth-down gambles. Giving up the ball meant trouble, the Panthers figured.
They were right. Two early turnovers mobilized the Pirates.
Cota, a freshman armed with speed and power, burst 20 yards for Modesto's first touchdown. After a fumble recovery by Joshua Reed like Cota, a Sierra High graduate the Pirates again cashed in on a 4-yard TD crash by Sams.
Gordon, stronger this season as a sophomore, orchestrated the Modesto offense without a turnover. He passed only 11 times for 101 yards, including a 29-yard TD catch-and-run to Chris Sousa, and also rushed 5 yards for MJC's third score.
"Their corners had a good reputation, so we just pounded the ball," Gordon said. "Our running backs are good and they're healthy."
Defensively, Modesto struggled at times to tackle Deandre Mann, Hartnell's solid tailback (75 rushing yards, 54 yards in receptions). It also labored against backup quarterback Michael Turner, who passed for 214 yards and three touchdowns.
Special teams flourished, however, during the game's competitive phase. Safety Stephen Thayer sprinted down the field and twice nailed the punt returner as the ball arrived.
"That is my favorite thing," the MJC track star said. "I get a free shot to hit the guy at full speed. When I see his eyes get large, I know the ball is close."
Young was uncertain if his team is better than last year's 2-0 team after two weeks. At this point, all can agree on this: At MJC this year, the faster the better.
Modesto JC 61, Hartnell 28
Hartnell 0 0 21 7 28
Modesto JC 20 14 13 14 61
M Anthony Cota 20 run (pass failed)
M James Sams 4 run (Adam Maisch kick)
M TeeJay Gordon 5 run (Maisch kick)
M Sams 2 run (Maisch kick)
M Marcus Hernandez 12 run (Maisch kick)
H Anthony Cannon 15 pass from Michael Turner (Gil Camacho kick)
M Cota 1 run (Maisch kick)
H Deandre Mann 5 pass from Turner (Camacho kick)
M Chris Souza 29 pass from Gordon (kick failed)
H Antoine Goodson 12 pass from Turner (Camacho kick)
M Hernandez 1 run (Maisch kick)
M Ricky Fuentes 35 punt return (Maisch kick)
H Kenyatter Larkins 22 run (Camacho kick)
Records: Hartnell 1-1, MJC 2-0.