SARATOGA -- Nothing was going to stop the Modesto Junior College football team from fulfilling what it has come to consider its destiny.
An injury to running back Marquell Colston in the Pirates' opening drive Saturday amounted to little more than tough luck in Modesto's 47-28 victory over West Valley.
Colston fell short of two Modesto JC career records, but the Pirates became the Golden Gate Conference's outright champions with a 5-0 league record. The last time a Modesto team went undefeated in conference play was 1980.
"It's a big deal, especially after going 1-4 in the preseason," quarterback Chad Draper said. "You know what kind of character and heart this team has to go 5-0."
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Modesto is looking to end the season with six consecutive victories and a 7-4 record as it plays host to Laney in next Saturday's Graffiti Bowl. It will be a Graffiti Bowl rematch with Laney (MJC lost 34-28 last year), which beat Merced 37-30 in double overtime for the Mid-Empire Conference title.
Draper said he'd be ready for the bowl game after taking it easy on Saturday with a still sore separated right shoulder. He completed 5 of 10 passes for 140 yards, throwing for three touchdowns to give him 20 on the season. None of his four interceptions came during GGC play.
With its quarterback hurting, Modesto planned to go to its running backs more than ever. As versatile as linebacker/running back Seth McDaniels has been, though, the Pirates didn't expect him to score three touchdowns and lead all rushers with 170 yards on 26 carries.
"It's unbelievable because of all the places I've been, I've never had as much fun as I had this season," McDaniels said. "To play both sides of the ball and play decently was amazing. The offensive line was awesome the way they opened up holes. I stutter-stepped sometimes because I was thinking, 'There should be a guy here.' "
McDaniels accepted kudos from a number of Vikings after the game, some of whom he dragged along with him on the field, but he said those words of praise only felt good as part of the whole team performance.
Colston agreed. He celebrated the Pirates' achievements rather than lament coming in second in the MJC record book for career all-purpose yards and single-season rushing yards.
Colston carried nine times for 27 yards before leaving the game, which left him with 969 yards for the season, 91 short of tying Dannie Carr's 2004 mark of 1,060. He fell 37 yards short of the all-purpose mark.
He was hit in the right thigh in Modesto's opening drive, experiencing a painful "charley horse." He tried to keep playing, but was unable to do much.
"I'm just happy we won," Colston said. "It's a dream come true. From going 1-4 in the preseason, you never expect to go 5-0. We all stuck together."
In Colston's absence, and that of injured running back Stephen Ortega (ankle), Willie Munford had a career day, running for 111 yards on 12 carries. McDaniels had two 5-yard touchdown runs and one for 9 yards.
Draper's 46-yard pass to Chris Avey put the Pirates up 30-0 early in the second quarter.
Draper said Marcus Allen made him look good on strikes of 44 and 28 yards.
Allen caught what he called a "perfect" 44-yard pass from Draper on the run and between two defenders, then turned toward the end zone.
He reached back over a receiver while in midair to snag the 28-yard touchdown pass, falling into the end zone under the Viking defender.
Modesto also scored on a safety when West Valley snapped the ball out of the end zone in the second quarter, and on a 20-yard field goal by Edgar De La Cruz. An interception by Ramall Reed led to McDaniels' 9-yard touchdown run in the second.
Head coach Sam Young said West Valley (1-9, 1-4 GGC) was no pushover. The Vikings pulled to within 40-21 late in the third quarter on one of Doug Webster's three touchdown passes. Webster finished 17 of 27 for 188 yards.
But the Vikings were no more a match for Modesto than anyone else in league play.
"The thing is, everybody had a role in it," Young said of the championship. "They knew their roles and everybody stepped up and performed.
"This is something that hasn't been done in a really long time. It's something really special."
Bee staff writer Kelly Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.