The clock tick-tick-ticked the Modesto Junior College Pirates toward their 43-42 upset win over American River on Saturday night, and the shocked Beavers were helpless to stop it.
American River's Jake Bist completed a 9-yard pass to the MJC 29 yard line, within range of a winning field goal, but the Beavers missed the clock-stopping first down by about a foot. Out of timeouts, ARC watched its unbeaten record disappear into the night while Modesto celebrated like third-graders at recess.
That's how the state's No. 3-ranked team (7-1, 2-1) went down, and how an upset-minded MJC team (4-4, 2-1) tossed the Valley Conference race into chaos. It was easily the most pulsating Modesto win at home, a three-hour funhouse jump, in at least two years.
"We decided we're not bowing down to any team," MJC coach Sam Young said. "It started to break their way, but we didn't bend."
Well, there was some bending, breaking and low-grade chaos at MJC Stadium. The teams combined for nearly 1,200 yards, 11 turnovers (five in the first quarter), and both the crowd and the teams appeared to be spent by game's end.
The margin? ARC will say it was a missed extra point by Cameron Southward, a mishit kick that zipped below the crossbar with 5:47 left to keep the Pirates in front 43-42.
Modesto will counter with Anthony Cota's 45-yard journey to the end zone to break a 36-36 tie with 8:57 to go. Cota (14 carries, 138 yards) found daylight to the right and took full advantage of a sustained downfield block by Zach Moreno.
"He (Cota) clipped my shoes!" Moreno said. "I was surprised it was him."
Modesto, energized by its meeting with one of the state powers, poured out emotion from the opening kickoff. Its go-go offense spun into overdrive during a four-touchdown romp through the third quarter that turned a 15-8 halftime deficit into a 35-16 lead.
Quarterback TeeJay Gordon, absorbing major blows from the ARC defense, raced for three of the four touchdowns and also threw a 13-yarder to Justice Gordon. A tipped-ball interception by Aaron Dutton and a fumble recovery by Tyler Juncker fueled the blitz.
"We had a good rythym. We kept with it," Gordon said. "Scoring off the defensive stops was great. Games likes feel so good."
The vibe stopped, however, when ARC countered for three straight scores of its own. Modesto special teams mistakes switched the momentum, and Bist and running back Drake Tofi (28 carries, 164 yards, 3 TDs) rallied the Beavers.
Tofi's easy 10-yard TD rip drew American River even 36-36 with 10:53 left.
The visitors were positioned for the win, in fact, until Tyler Trosin one of the state's most productive receivers fumbled forward a punt return. MJC's Markus Rico pounced on it near midfield, and Cota sped for the decisive points two plays later.
"It's a huge win," said Young, whose normally mild sideline demeanor gave way to cap-yanking and stomping onto the field to protest a few calls. "I may have used the Lord's name in vain. ... We're starting to come together as a group. Sometimes it happens early, sometimes late."
Brandon Camara's emphatic game-opening sack motivated Modesto, which labored through a disappointing loss last week at Sierra. Even two major errors by Modesto turnovers inside the ARC 10 didn't distract the Pirates.
"We decided we were not going to fall off at this time," said lineman Joe Vargas, one of the team captains. "We live by the one one play, one team, one dream."
ARC's early lead was erased by a 73-yard march which ended with a 5-yard by James Sams after an option pitch from Gordon. Modesto then sprung its first surprise on the Beavers when Chris Souza aligned in the swinging gate accepted the snap, stepped forward and then lobbed over the line to Jake McCreath for the entertaining 2-point conversion and an 8-7 advantage.
An electric start was mandatory, and Modesto got it and built on it.
American River, which reached the NorCal finals a year ago, slowly walked off the field when it ended. Modesto matched the Beavers hit for hit, and the team that committed the fewest errors won. A sober fact to end a bizarre night.