Fast start a good speed for MJC football

New simplified system could leave Hartnell reeling on Saturday

ragostini@modbee.comSeptember 23, 2013 

Now that the word is out about Modesto Junior College's go-go offense, the Pirates have made a change.

This season, they're going faster.

MJC opened 2013 in a flat-out sprint last weekend by snapping off a school-record 104 plays — that's not a typo — to beat Merced 46-13.

Modesto led Northern California by averaging 84 plays on offense last season. The Pirates topped all California community colleges in snap-count in 2011. A quick pace is nothing new for the men in blue, who welcome Hartnell of Salinas for their home opener Saturday night at MJC Stadium.

What's new this season, however, is the Pirates believe they can't go fast enough. Wearing down opponents is their plan, a response to their 4-6 record in 2012. Success in the Valley Conference depends on the success of that offense, the Modesto braintrust thinks, and that's why they've morphed from fast-forward to Mach 4.

So far, so good.

"We've streamlined the offense and worked on it since last spring. It was all by design," MJC coach Sam Young said. "The terminology is abbreviated and there are no more intricate signals. We go off a word or a number and everyone knows what to do."

Modesto gashed Merced for 630 yards, 301 on the ground and 329 through the air, and averaged 6.1 yards per play. Sure enough, the Pirates sparked their pull-away late in the second quarter and sustained the rally into the second half.

"Right around the second quarter, they (Merced) were just about done," sophomore left guard Joe Vargas said. "That is our game plan every week."

Vargas, on the field for every play on offense, dropped about five pounds on game night, from 283 to 278. He likes the tradeoff. Anthony Cota rushed for 88 yards and two touchdowns and spiced an impressive trio of running backs which included James Sams and sophomore Marcus Hernandez.

Besides Cota, Modesto also unveiled 6-foot-4 250-pound tight end Jake McCreath (4 catches, 72 yards, touchdown). His presence, along with the running backs, removed some pressure off sophomore quarterback TeeJay Gordon (26 of 39, 329 yards, two touchdowns, one interception).

Defensively, end and team captain Tyler Juncker brought fresh energy to a team that allowed 44 points a game last year. So did sophomore safety Stephen Thayer (seven tackles), who returned to the Pirates after a season off.

"I thought we tackled and pursued the ball. We're still giving up the big play, which is a concern," Young said.

The Pirates' offense, however, still commands the conversation. Rusty Stivers, beginning his eighth season as offensive coordinator, started to accelerate the offense during the 2010 season with run-pass threat Devin Combs.

Modesto was upgraded to Tier 1 that season, and Young thought acceleration was needed for the Pirates to compete in the Valley Conference.

"We decided that year to make the defense defend the quarterback," Stivers said. "That was a fun time."

Since then, Modesto has pressured opponents with its myriad screen passes, read options and straight-ahead rushes with quarterbacks like Quinton McCown (New Mexico) and Gordon.

"Our offense has a cumulative effect, like pounding a rock," Young said. "You're going to get yards with that many plays."

Hartnell, a gradually improving program under seventh-year coach Matt Collins, opened with a 41-7 win over Los Medanos. The Panthers feature 205-pound running back Deandre Mann, who rushed for 130 yards and accounted for touchdown runs of 14 and 45 yards.

Modesto has beaten Hartnell the last three seasons by an average of 26 points. Still, the Pirates collide with a team that recorded back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in over a decade.

• NOTES — Kickoff is 6 o'clock Saturday night. It's homecoming, and Pirate flags will decorate the stadium. A children's play area and the Alumni Tunnel, featuring timeless photographs from over the years, are among the featured activities. ... Inside linebacker Brandon Camara, injured late in the Merced game (knee), will miss a few games, Young said. ... Last week's victory was the sixth straight over the Blue Devils and the 12th in the last 14 meetings.

Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or (209) 578-2302. Follow Ron via Twitter, @modbeesports.

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