Three weeks ago, the Modesto Junior College Pirates limped along at 3-4, a team seeking traction.
Today, they make plans for their first bowl game in two years. Saving your best for last has its merits.
The Pirates, stretch-running like a hungry thoroughbred, parlayed that sprint into a berth against Santa Rosa in the Golden Valley Bowl. Kickoff is Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Bear Cubs’ Bailey Field.
“A roller coaster ride, but we got there,” MJC coach Sam Young assessed Sunday. “It says a lot about the character of this team and how we continued to improve.”
Modesto (5-5), which finished in a 3-way tie for second place in the Valley Conference, will roll into Santa Rosa with the state’s No. 3-ranked offense (523-yard average). Awaiting the Pirates is a Santa Rosa team (6-4) which tumbled to fourth in the NorCal Conference after losses the last two weeks to powerful San Francisco and San Mateo.
Modesto qualified, despite its .500 record, for two reasons: Its wild 43-42 win in Week 8 over American River, at the time unbeaten and ranked third in the state; and a strong power rating built in part by its rugged schedule, Northern California’s toughest.
The Pirates also bounced back from a disappointing loss in Week 9 to eventual VC champion Fresno by cuffing San Joaquin Delta 72-26 on Saturday. They cemented their status as one of the state’s most lethal offenses by netting a school-record 745 yards.
“A lot of it is common sense. They (the selection committee) don’t want repeat matchups.” Young said. “We have a good matchup of equally talented teams.”
Modesto had not given up hope for a home berth – a return to the Graffiti Bowl – due to its slightly better power rating over Santa Rosa. The Bear Cubs got the nod, thanks to their superior season record and poll standing. They’re ranked seventh in Northern California, ahead of MJC in 11th.
One of the bowl game’s featured players will be MJC sophomore quarterback TeeJay Gordon, who was voted the conference’s outstanding offensive player in voting by the coaches Sunday in Modesto. Gordon is ranked 12th in the state in passing yardage (315 yards per game) and 13th in touchdowns (23). He also rushed for 11 touchdown.
Other all-league honorees on offense were running back Anthony Cota (941 yards, 7 TDs), wide receiver Chris Souza (49 catches, 6 TDs), tight end Jake McCreath (31 catches, 533 yards, 4 TDs), guard Joe Vargas and tackle Brandon Jurevich.
MJC’s all-league sections on defense were end Tyler Juncker and backs D.C. Gardeley and Herbert Whitehurst. The Pirates improved in conference play from 1-4 last year to 3-2.
NOTES – Though it’s not yet official, kickoff time was moved from noon to 3 p.m., a concession to MJC’s morning trip. Young said he and Santa Rosa first-year coach Lenny Wagner agreed to the change. ...Santa Rosa beat Modesto in both 2008 and ’09. The Bear Cubs forfeited the ’08 win, however, for using an ineligible player.