MODESTO — The Modesto High Panthers exchanged mostly wordless hugs after their season ended Friday night. No words were needed.
They upgraded from one win in 2012 to a Modesto Metro Conference title this fall, which is why those hugs were accompanied by more than a few tears. They were outclassed 48-12 by Pleasant Grove in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 playoffs, but just getting there meant a lot.
Ive got a bunch of mountain-climbers, first-year coach Modesto coach Rich Alkire said. From 1-9 to this.
The stage may have unnerved Modesto (7-4), however, against one of the sections elite teams. Pleasant Grove (9-2) walked into Chuck Hughes Stadium and introduced itself to the Panthers with a game-opening 91-yard kickoff return to the end zone by Esley Simmons.
The play demonstrated the Eagles game-long dominance. Simmons made the catch and ripped between the hashmarks untouched and without losing stride. The ease of the play also said something else: On a night the Panthers needed to be perfect, they were not.
They trailed 34-6 at halftime as the Pleasant Grove difference-makers such as quarterback Dre Terrell, wide receiver/safety Wyatt Demps and running back Ian Broom dictated all terms. The slender 6-foot-4 Demps, bound for Nevada, hurt Modesto in several ways.
His 74-yard punt return for a touchdown during the second quarter featured a spin and a few missed tackles by the Panthers. He also caught two touchdown passes from Terrell and doused a Modesto threat by intercepting a screen pass from Tiki Tonga. Pleasant Grove intercepted three passes in all.
Pleasant Grove is no joke. Theyve got athletes, Tonga acknowledged. We made some mistakes here and there. I made some of those mistakes, but Im proud of my team.
Modesto, outgained 445-299, moved the ball at times. Lovell Collins (13 carries, 124 yards), answered the Eagles 14-0 start by racing around left end and past a startled Pleasant Grove bench 73 yards for the Panthers first touchdown.
Late in the third quarter, the Panthers found the scoreboard again on a 22-yard pass from Tonga to Will Gallo, who out-jumped two defenders near the goal line.
Youve got to leave everything out there or youll regret it, a tearful Gallo said.
Modesto received a home berth by virtue of its 17th overall league title, though it was lower-seeded. Problem was, it drew Pleasant Grove, which lost the last two weeks to powerhouses Oak Ridge (ranked 11th in the state) and Folsom (ranked third).
Every team in the playoffs is a good team, Pleasant Grove coach Joe Cattolico said. Our goal tonight was to get better. I thought we did.
The Eagles pushed Modesto off the line of scrimmage most of the night as Ian Broom (14 carries, 120) yards) and Damaree Morris (16 carries, 92 yards, TD) pounded for yardage. Then there was the 5-foot-7 Terrell, who tossed four touchdown passes with his surprisingly strong arm.
Simmons followed his kickoff return by racing 47 yards to catch Terrells well-thrown strike for Pleasant Groves second touchdown. The Panthers could not match up with such athleticism, though they hardly backed off.
Modesto received a hearty cheer from its fans at games end. Picked to finish third by MMC coaches, they exceeded expectations. There was no shame in losing to a superior team, though they hoped for more.
This shows our kids whats out there and what to aspire to, Alkire said. I want to build a program where its not uncommon (for us to be here).