The rainbow that arched above Modesto Junior College Stadium a few minutes before kickoff turned out be a harbinger.
For the Laney Eagles of Oakland, that is.
Modesto, which did not fall behind during two season-opening wins, trailed from start to finish Saturday night in a discouraging 29-22 loss. Laney (1-2), hardened by tough losses to powers San Mateo and San Francisco, pushed Modesto backward for 256 rushing yards and dominated most of the night.
Still, the Pirates (2-1) gathered themselves for a spirited finish. Zach Johnson reached the ball over the goal line after catching a short screen pass from TeeJay Gordon and pulled Modesto to 29-22 with 47 seconds left.
Laney's Yusef Sterling-Lowe pounced on the onside kick, however, to seal Modesto's first loss. There were no mysteries to solve for the sparse crowd not discouraged by the afternoon storm. The visitors were better from start to finish.
"Laney controlled the game," MJC coach Sam Young said. "We tried to make the game longer and they made it quite short."
Young referred to the Pirates' up-tempo offense, which backfired for three costly turnovers. Conversely, Laney pounded the smaller MJC defense with running backs Tyler McDonald (23 carries, 195 yards, 3 touchdowns) and 225-pound Miles Valentino (16 carries, 103 yards, TD).
Laney committed only one turnover, an interception and 24-yard return by Eddie Smith that heartened Modesto early in the fourth quarter. Then Gordon was sacked after MJC reached the Laney 3 Gordon was sacked six times overall and the break produced only a 31-yard field goal by Adam Maisch.
Modesto, down 23-15, needed a stop. Instead, Laney responded with a 69-yard drive for the back-breaking touchdown. Valentino's 1-yard punch into the end zone with 4:35 left, moments after MJC was flagged for two personal fouls on the same play, all but finished off the Pirates.
"I'm proud of how we played to the end," Young said. "We just got out-executed."
MJC paid the full price for each turnover.
Anthony Cota's fumble on the game's fifth play from scrimmage was snatched in mid-air by Sterling-Howe. The Eagles ignited on their first snap when Garrett Anderson passed 48 yards to Aaron Linen at the 1. McDonald drove over from the 4.
During the second quarter, a promising MJC march to the Laney 23 ended when James Sams was stripped of the ball.
Late in the third quarter, Gordon was intercepted by Chris Lee, who returned the ball 11 yards to the MJC 11. McDonald soon carried tacklers into the end zone from 5 yards out.
Gordon, bothered by a pass rush that intensified during the second half, completed 20 of 29 passes for 236 yards and touchdowns to Johnson and Ricky Fuentes. The yards, however, were misleading. Laney denied the fly-sweeps and screens the Pirates prefer.
Worse, Modesto was limited to 136 yards on the ground. Sixty-nine of them came early in the game when Gordon fooled the Eagles with a read-option fake to Cota, leaving the quarterback to scamper easily home.
That was the Pirates' only positive moment during a slow start that produced a 16-6 deficit. Laney's ball control, compounded by Modesto's 13 penalties for 116 yards and those half-dozen sacks of Gordon, steepened the Pirates' climb.
"It was real live action tonight. We knew Laney was a good team," MJC safety Brandon Barboza said. "We have to get more physical and not let people drag us."
The loss, though not a season-killer, sobered Modesto with non-league heavyweights San Mateo and Butte looming. Young's furrowed forehead suggested some difficult days ahead.
"We're not experienced at a lot of positions. It's not going to get easier," he said. "We have to get better in a lot of places."
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2302. Follow Ron via Twitter, @modbeesports.
Laney 29, Modesto JC 22
Laney 10 6 7 6 29
Modesto JC 6 6 0 10 22
L Tyler McDonald 4 run (Joshua Sowho kick)
M TeeJay Gordon 69 run (kick failed)
L FG Sowho 26
Second QuarterL McDonald 5 run (pass failed)
M Ricky Fuentes 13 pass from Gordon (pass failed)
Third QuarterL McDonald 5 run (Sowho kick)
Fourth QuarterM FG Adam Maisch 31
L Miles Valentino 1 run (kick blocked)
M Zach Johnson 3 pass from Gordon (Maisch kick)
Records: Laney 1-2, MJC 2-1