Modesto Junior College fans still are talking about the memorable play last weekend that carried the Pirates to victory.
MJC (2-1) hopes to ride its momentum Saturday afternoon at Contra Costa, but practice no doubt was made easier by the Wyatt Clapper-to-Alex Kiriluk touchdown pass to beat Sacramento City 17-14.
Clapper, scrambling to his right away from pressure, lofted a 27-yard pass to the 6-foot-4 Kiriluk, who out-leaped two defenders in the end zone with eight minutes left. Both quarterback and receiver improvised to cap a comeback from a 14-0 deficit.
“I wasn’t that surprised. Alex has the best hands on the team,” coach Rusty Stivers said. “Wyatt has a good touch on the run. It was a little backyard football.”
Clapper, a sophomore, will be rewarded by receiving his first collegiate start at Contra Costa. The Pitman High graduate lost a tight battle for the job to Shawn Munoz during the preseason. His climb to the No. 1 spot started when he tossed three late touchdown passes during the loss to American River two weeks ago.
Stivers noted that Munoz will see action at some point.
29 MJC’s point average this season
“The quarterback usually gets the most credit or the most blame. When an offense struggles, though, it’s a collective effort,” Stivers said. “We haven’t played well on offense over the last two games. When Wyatt had his chance, he made things happen.”
MJC has averaged more than 40 points a game in recent seasons with its fast-paced NASCAR offense. But over the first three games, that number has dropped to 29 points.
Worse, MJC was stopped almost cold by Sacramento City’s stout defense until the Pirates’ comeback. Modesto managed only 37 yards of offense over the game’s first 40 minutes. The Pirates eventually found some success with their screen passes and Clapper’s medium-length throws.
Incredibly, Modesto won for the first time in 16 years while scoring fewer than 20 points. Two goal-line stands, one early in the game and one late, helped. Linebacker Dennis Orzhekhovsky logged 15 tackles, none more important than his ringing hit that climaxed the Pirates’ opening goal-line stop.
“We finally got our tempo going and I think that got Sacramento tired late in the game,” Stivers said. “We’ve given a lot of guys playing time over the first three games. We have to get better on offense. I expect us to score every time we touch the ball.”
I wasn’t that surprised. Alex (Kiriluk) has the best hands on the team. Wyatt (Clapper) has a good touch on the run. It was a little backyard football.
Modesto will collide with a hungry Costa Costa team (0-3) that, two weeks ago, led Sacramento at halftime before the Panthers rallied to win 17-14. Quarterback Cameron Burston can reach all points of the field with his strong arm.
Alonzo Carter has turned around the Comets since he became head coach six years ago. Since then, they’ve averaged eight wins a season with bowl appearances in the last four. The Comets were promoted this year to the National Division.
Carter cut his coaching teeth with successful stints at McClymonds and Berkeley high schools. He’s also a former choreographer for MC Hammer.
“He’s a very charismatic guy, very animated and a lot of fun,” Stivers said. “He’s doing a great job at Contra Costa.”
Notes – Game time Saturday at San Pablo is 1 p. m., a change from the original 3 p.m. It’s the first of MJC’s three day games this season. ... The Pirates survived a difficult manpower issue at inside linebacker last week. Nicholas Medina, Frankie Sanchez and Kekupaa Freehauf all missed the game, and defensive coordinator Sam Young said the Pirates were one injury away from switching the Pirates’ standard 3-4 alignment to a 4-3. The versatility of linebacker Angel Roblero, who can perform at both inside and outside linebacker spots, was critical. Roblero also made the fourth-down tackle inside the MJC 5-yard line that preserved the lead with three minutes left. Nick Vermillion also stepped into the lineup and played well. Medina, Sanchez and Freehauf all are expected to play Saturday.