Winning a conference title sure feels fine.
There's still one game to win before the Modesto Junior College football team can claim an undefeated championship, but it clinched the Golden Gate Conference title Saturday with a 43-34 victory over Diablo Valley.
Mark Newman intercepted a Viking pass with 1:46 to play to make things official and begin the celebration.
Kicker Edgar De La Cruz made a 38-yard field goal with 2:17 remaining that put the game out of reach for Diablo Valley (5-4, 3-1 GGC). The ball hit the crossbar and bounced through for the final margin.
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Modesto (5-4, 4-0 GGC) broke a 34-34 tie on Marcus Allen's third touchdown reception from Chad Draper. With 7:58 left, the Pirates marched down the field from their own 37.
On the eighth play of the drive, Allen caught a 22-yard pass and beat defenders to the end zone. A bad snap on the point-after kick left the score at 40-34 and the game in doubt against a high-powered Vikings offense.
Modesto stopped Diablo Valley on the next drive, and ate up the clock with a long possession that ended in De La Cruz's field goal.
Modesto plays at West Valley of Saratoga next Saturday at 1 p.m. in the GGC finale. The last time a Modesto JC team went undefeated in conference play was 1980. But by beating Diablo Valley, the Pirates clinched eight-year head coach Sam Young's first title and their second consecutive Graffiti Bowl berth.
The Pirates kept the nearly packed home stands in suspense a little longer Saturday, ending at 10:40 p.m.
The first half took almost two hours to play, with a combined 19 penalties and a 15-minute injury delay. Diablo Valley defensive back Andre Harbison was taken off the field on a stretcher after sustaining a broken left tibia at the end of the first quarter.
Modesto's Corey Nichols intercepted a Vikings pass and recovered a fumble in the first half. The Pirates were unable to capitalize on either turnover.
Modesto did benefit from Diablo Valley penalties on all three of its scoring drives in the first half.
The Vikings were called for a personal foul, propelling the Pirates forward on a 9-play, 80-yard scoring drive. Draper connected with Allen on a slot play for a 24-yard touchdown. The point-after snap was bobbled, but Modesto still led 6-0.
Diablo Valley's Erick Johnson scored on a 39-yard run to tie the score.
Modesto had to punt on its ensuing drive after a 14-yard Justin Nagle run on fourth down was called back for holding. But Diablo Valley fumbled the punt, which Nagle recovered. On the next play, Draper passed to an open Chris Avey down the Vikings' sideline for a 19-yard touchdown. De La Cruz's kick put Modesto ahead 13-6. It was the first of two Avey touchdown catches.
Another fumbled Diablo Valley punt led to Modesto scoring on a Willie Munford 26-yard run. Munford had the ball knocked out of his hands at the end zone, but Allen recovered it, giving the Pirates a 20-13 lead at halftime.
Draper finished with 344 yards passing, completing 18 of 29 attempts with no interceptions. Allen had 156 yards receiving on six catches. Marquell Colston caught four passes for 71 yards and ran for another 122 yards on 22 carries.
The Vikings' Johnson ran for four touchdowns and totaled 230 yards on 28 carries. Quarterback Jon Loeliger completed nine of his 19 passes for 128 yards. He threw three interceptions.