The Modesto Junior College Pirates felt the wind on their collective backs, pushing them forward, making their jobs easier.
Yes, the first quarter was a breeze.
The Pirates, taking full advantage of a brisk 18-mph southerly wind zooming across MJC Stadium, shocked College of the Sequoias with 27 first-quarter points. The rest of Saturday night was a predictable road to a 48-24 Valley Conference-opening victory.
“A lot of excitement tonight,” MJC coach Rusty Stivers summarized. “A lot of things to build on.”
The Pirates (4-2, 1-0) deferred to the second half, thus pointing their offense downwind for the first 15 minutes. The result was touchdowns on their first four possessions, with one TD set up by Josiah Millhouse’s blocked punt.
Quarterback Wyatt Clapper floated touchdown passes of 41 yards to Michael Thompson and 35 yards to Alex Kiriluk as Modesto’s momentum accelerated. The Pirates ended the game’s competitive phase by leading 41-3 at halftime as the gusts gave the skull-and-crossbone flags a workout on homecoming.
“You don’t have your full offense when you’re going into the wind,” Stivers said. “We got great kickoffs and pinned them and set the stage for our offense.”
27 First-quarter points by MJC
Sequoias (3-3, 0-1) struggles against the Pirates’ fast-paced attack. Modesto’s win was its seventh in a row over the Giants, and the last five haven’t been close.
Clapper solidified his hold on the starting QB job with his touchdown passes and a nifty 29-yard burst to the end zone late in the half. The 6-foot-4 third-year sophomore, not noted for his running skills, broke three tackles over the last 5 yards.
“It was a little unexpected,” he said. “After I got the first down, it was like, ‘Keep going.’ ”
Stivers, who occasionally has teased Clapper for being slow, congratulated the QB and grinned after his crowd-pleasing scramble.
“Wyatt had a chip on his shoulder. It was a good chip,” Stivers said. “He showed tonight that he’s very effective running the ball.”
MJC’s rollicking start was launched by Dennis Orzhekhovsky’s fumble recovery on COS’ first series. It continued with Clapper’s early strikes, two rushing touchdowns by Jay Green, Millhouse’s blocked punt and a 21-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Blake Smallie after a poor Giants punt snap.
The Modesto defense reacted accordingly, flying to the ball and delivering major blows. The Pirates couldn’t have scripted a better game plan.
“We came out with energy. Practice this week was amped up,” defensive back Brandon Dabney said. “I think we wanted to show off on homecoming.”
COS’ frustration mounted during the second quarter, and the officials and coaches on both sides worked hard to avoid a fight. Stivers used the second half as a playing-time opportunity for his reserves. Javonte Norman rushed 2 yards for MJC’s only touchdown after the break.
MJC earned back-to-back wins for the first time this season.
Giants coach Irv Pankey, a former NFL standout lineman, also emptied his bench. Backup quarterback Josh Sierra tossed two touchdown passes to Damar Chanis in the fourth quarter. Elijah Porchia (21 carries, 111 yards) notched a 16-yard touchdown run long after the game was decided.
“The Siskiyous trip (MJC’s victory two weeks ago) brought the team closer,” Stivers said. “The team grew and got tighter.”
Shawn Munoz, who shared the QB snaps with Clapper over the first five games, was in street clothes. Stivers said Munoz was held out of the game due to a bookkeeping matter related to a class. Munoz will be available for the Pirates’ trip to Fresno on Saturday afternoon.
Valley Conference standings
With overall and league records:
Laney: 5-1, 1-0
Modesto: 4-2, 1-0
Chabot: 2-4, 1-0
Fresno: 3-3, 0-1
Sequoias: 3-3, 0-1
Delta: 1-5, 0-1
Laney 57, Delta 34
Modesto 48, Sequoias 24
Chabot 27, Fresno 13
Modesto at Fresno, 1 p.m.
Chabot at Delta, 1 p.m.
Laney at Sequoias, 2 p.m.