Modesto Junior College football team has eyes on task at hand: Facing San Mateo

ragostini@modbee.comSeptember 26, 2013 

— Bulldog Stadium at College of San Mateo remains one of the most visually appealing venues in California community college football.

Spectators, facing sweeping views of the South Bay, attend the game but often are distracted by the scenery. The stadium sits on a hilltop with seemingly everything from the San Mateo Bridge to Interstate 101 laid out below.

Alas, there will be no time for sightseeing for the Modesto Junior College Pirates.

All their attention must be placed on the Bulldogs (3-0), a perennial state power which overwhelmed Modesto 60-35 a year ago. The Pirates (2-1), beaten last week by Laney 29-22, will climb the hill to CSM for a 1 p.m. kickoff Saturday with an upset on their minds.

"Playing them last year I hope will help us," MJC coach Sam Young said. "We'll be better prepared."

San Mateo never lacks for talent. Quarterback Casey Wichman, a Tracy High graduate and a San Joaquin Delta transfer, and MJC quarterback TeeJay Gordon were teammates during the 2011 Lions All-Star Football Game.

One of the Bulldogs' top defenders is lineman Pio Vatuvei, the Patterson High graduate who played nine games last fall as a true freshman at the University of Washington. Vatuvei was dismissed from the team last summer due to an unspecified team violation, but the Huskies' loss was CSM's gain.

Last week, San Mateo survived a defensive slugfest over Diablo Valley 14-7. In the season opener, it led Laney 27-0 at halftime en route to a 41-27 victory.

"It's problematic to compare scores," Young said. "It always depends on the matchups and how we play."

San Mateo, MJC's first Teir 1 opponent, will reduce the Pirates' margin for error. They certainly can't repeat their three turnovers — two lost fumbles and an interception — which set them on course for their loss last weekend.

The Pirates lost the turnover battle 3-1 which resulted in a 14-3 setback on the scoreboard. That, coupled with Laney's 256 rushing yards and 15-minute possession edge, doomed the home team.

Gordon also was sacked six times that night. Incredibly, Modesto still forced Laney to recover an onside kick with less than a minute left to nail down the win.

"We kind of beat ourselves in a way," Gordon said. "We came out strong in practice this week. It looks like the loss won't affect us. We'll find out Saturday."

Modesto must manage without sophomore slot Ricky Fuentes, one of the Pirates' top weapons, who suffered a strained medial collateral ligament of his knee during the second half last week.

Young believes Fuentes will be sidelined until the Oct. 19 Valley Conference opener at College of the Sequoias, one week after the bye. He'll be replaced by freshmen Chris Souza — he's also the backup quarterback — and Mike Milbourne.

Personnel aside, the day's challenge is clear. MJC must lock in on San Mateo, not on the surrounding landscape.

NOTES — MJC is ranked 21st in the state and 10th in Northern California. San Mateo is ninth and sixth. ... Nevada's Devin Combs, the former MJC quarterback (2010) from Oakdale, suffered a season-ending knee injury against Florida State two weeks ago. Combs played on the injured knee for a spell before he limped off. "That was a tribute to him as a good teammate and a good cowboy," Young said.

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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