MODESTO — The football season is young enough to where teams still are learning who they are and establishing the parameters for what they can become.
There's no secret that Pitman High is perhaps the best team in the Stanislaus District, so its goals are set.
In that sense, it very well could have been Modesto High that learned the most from Thursday night's game, despite finishing at the extremely short end of a 63-12 decision at Downey High.
"They're a great team, and when you play a great team it exposes every flaw you have, so we have a lot of work to do and this will give us an opportunity to look at this and get a lot better," said Modesto High coach Rich Alkire.
Since both teams entered the game 2-0 while averaging 55 or more points per game, the Pride wasn't exactly sure what to expect from the Panthers. But the amount of scoring Modesto had done in the first two weeks certainly got Pitman's attention.
"This is the kind of game after Lincoln that we might not have come out sharp, but with Modesto 2-0 and looking good on film that got our attention," said Pitman coach Tom Tyler. "They have some good skill people and their line is improved. I thought we did a good job on defense."
The Panthers do have some weapons, most notably quarterback Tiki Tonga. But on this night Tonga was involved in nearly all of Modesto's offense, accounting for 153 (87 passing, 66 rushing) of its 191 yards. At times, it appeared he tried to do too much, especially as Pitman was rolling to a 49-6 halftime lead.
"The game plan was to throw a lot underneath to get the ball in the hands of our athletes and make them move up," Alkire said.
"Sometimes Tiki tries to do too much, and we all appreciate that he's such a competitor and a great leader. He's our guy. He'll be able to see that in the game film and recognize the guys around him this year that can make plays. I know he will. He's such a great kid and I'm glad he's my quarterback."
Conversely, Pitman's weapons were in full view, creating a balance that was impossible for the Panthers to stop.
Logan Wolfley ran for 133 yards and two touchdowns, Chase Hagar had 119 yards and two touchdowns, and Mario Lewis added 83 yards and also reached the end zone twice. In all, the Pride ran for 383 yards, all but 40 in the first half.
Those opening 24 minutes ended when Pitman took a knee at the Modesto 29 with 25 seconds and a time out remaining on the clock. The Pride did not throw a pass in the second half, but quarterback Wyatt Clapper still had time to complete four of seven passes for 131 yards and two scores.
"We probably threw even more than I wanted to, because once we got ahead I just wanted the clock to run," Tyler said. "But we can throw. We can do a lot of things, and Modesto put a lot of guys in the box trying to stop the run."
In addition to the program already in place, Pitman has put together an additional advantage on the sidelines, where Tyler has assembled a coaching brain trust consisting of (including Tyler) no fewer than five former head coaches.
"I never even thought about that, but six is right," Tyler said. "It means that everything is being coached and they're all doing great jobs. We have a lot of eyes on the field."
Modesto has another difficult Central California Conference foe ahead when it plays at Turlock next Thursday, but it should leave the Panthers very well battle-tested for the MMC slate that follows.
"We knew coming that we had to play flawless, and offensively we were out of sorts," Alkire said. "We had open guys and opportunities and didn't execute, and part of that is the team getting caught up in what was happening. We can learn from that."
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek