The Modesto Junior College Pirates performed Saturday afternoon like a team not ready to put away its equipment.
And the Pirates’ bowl-game wish might be granted.
They honored their sophomores by putting a 72-26 beatdown on valley rival San Joaquin Delta, a game settled by the Pirates’ ripping for touchdowns on seven of their eight possessions of the first half.
About 1,500 at MJC Stadium watched Modesto (5-5, 3-2) steamroll into a three-way tie for second place in the Valley Conference by netting a school-record 745 yards, an emphatic 444 of them on the ground.
“I really didn’t have to do too much,” said quarterback TeeJay Gordon, who downplayed his four touchdown passes and efficient guidance of MJC’s point-a-minute offense. “The swing passes worked and the line was blocking. It was kind of a surprise and kind of not.”
The surprise stemmed from the rout, a rarity in this turf-war series. Delta (2-8, 1-4) gained confidence last week by upsetting Sierra, which beat Modesto. But that confidence vanished when MJC running backs Anthony Cota (20 carries, 248 yards, TD) and James Sams (25 carries, 99 yards, 2 TDs) raced through wide openings in the Mustangs’ defense.
Before the officials fast-timed the final 8:33, MJC set records for margin of victory and point-total against Delta.
“That was our best overall game,” said MJC coach Sam Young, who tied the iconic Fred Earle with his 88th MJC victory. “American River turned it over seven times against us. Delta gave us only one turnover. If you combine our offense, defense and special teams, that was our best game.”
Young believes Modesto’s reward will be a berth in one of Northern California’s seven bowl games. The Pirates’ .500 record may not look pleasing, but they also trudged uphill against the region’s toughest-ranked schedule. They also were 10th in power ratings going into the Delta game – a number that could jump to as high as sixth – which also counts in the Pirates’ favor.
Speculation already points toward a possible matchup with 6-4 Santa Rosa, which placed fourth in the NorCal Conference but does own a win over VC champion Fresno. The bowl bids will be announced today.
“We should be up there,” Young said. “Our chances are good.”
Modesto hiked its chances by making quick work of the Mustangs. The Pirates’ game-opening 75-yard march, climaxed by Cota’s 10-yard romp to the left after Gordon’s option pitch, signaled what was ahead.
Seven of those 12 plays were runs by either Cota or Sams, who were positioned to the left and the right of Gordon. MJC had not often shown that look, especially since the loss to Laney in September.
“Coach Stivers (offensive coordinator Rusty Stivers) said early in the week that we had to get our best athletes on the field,” offensive lineman Joe Vargas said. “It was a real big boost to have both of them (Cota and Sams) on the field at the same time.”
Defensively, Modesto contained Delta running back Theo Wofford (13 carries, 69 yards), Delta’s best weapon to keep MJC’s explosive offense off the field.
Chris Souza’s 6-yard touchdown reception increased the lead to 21-0 and, after the Mustangs fumbled away the kickoff, Justice Jordan collected his first of two scoring catches.
Souza dashed 18 yards on a reverse for a touchdown, and tight end Jake McCreath (4 catches, 106 yards, TD) also found space downfield. Even special teams captain Roman Puppo mopped up with a 10-yard run for MJC’s final touchdown.
All questions were answered by the Pirates this day, except the one about their immediate future.
“For all the trials and tribulations of a 10-game schedule, I want one more,” Vargas said. “It would put a stamp on all our hard work.”