San Joaquin Delta and Modesto Junior College often pits neighbor against neighbor, school against school and, sometimes, friend against friend.
They’re close in proximity, similar in philosophy and equal in intensity. When the Mustangs and the Pirates engage, they don’t exactly go through the motions.
“The players obviously know each other well,” MJC coach Sam Young said. “It’s always a good game and always emotional.”
Twenty-two MJC sophomores will make their final home appearance Saturday afternoon at 1 o’clock at MJC Stadium. The Pirates (4-5, 2-2) need a win to put themselves in bowl contention. Also on the line is Modesto’s first plus-.500 Valley Conference season in two years and, of course, provincial pride.
One of the sophomores is two-year starting quarterback TeeJay Gordon, whose 247.4 passing yards per game is sixth in Northern California. His run-pass threat has anchored MJC’s go-go offense all season.
“We definitely want to go out with a bang,” Gordon said. “The sophomores still have a chance to go to a bowl game.”
It’s true that 5-5 teams have earned berths in the seven Northern California bowl games. The Pirates bank on a tough schedule to help their cause with the selection committee. The point is moot, however, if Modesto slips against Delta.
The Pirates sabotaged their title hopes with last week’s 44-23 loss at Fresno City. An early 13-0 lead melted away in a series of sustained drives by the Rams. Even one of MJC’s two player buses broke down near Madera before the game. The entire team didn’t arrive at Ratcliffe Stadium until about an hour before kickoff.”
Modesto’s chances hinge on how it bounces back from last week’s disappointment.
“We have to understand that there is a lot to play for,” Young said. “Our defense has to make them earn it.”
The Mustangs (2-7, 1-3) have labored through a rare difficult season, though they snapped a six-game losing streak last week with a 35-32 win over Sierra. Running back Theo Wofford (997 yards, 14 touchdowns) scored on a 5-yard run in overtime to win it.
Containing Wofford will be top priority for an undersized Modesto defense that has been overpowered at times this season.
“Delta will be flying high,” Young said. “They’ve also played a tough schedule.”
On offense, Modesto must manage without slotback Ricky Fuentes, who is scheduled to undergo surgery today for a broken ankle incurred late in the game against Fresno. Fuentes struggled with injuries all season. Receiver and backup quarterback Chris Souza, who was reduced to holding on placement kicks last week, is questionable for Saturday.
“The team has been a little snakebitten with injuries,” Young said. “I feel bad for the sophomores who worked very hard during the off-season. They’ve been a good group.”
The home team has won the MJC-Delta game each year since 2008.