Rallying from an 18-point, fourth-quarter deficit requires trust, camaraderie and a belief system that’s more than a talking point.
The Modesto Junior College Pirates (2-1), who authored such a rally last week to beat Diablo Valley 35-34, think they’ve built a team that can respond to challenges on game night. They’ll again test that system Saturday night at Sacramento City.
“Emotional maturity,” coach Rusty Stivers said, citing one of the Pirates’ top qualities. “We have so many leader types on the team; they keep playing. Your goal is that it becomes a part of the culture.”
Sacramento (1-2) enters its home opener after a 15-point, second-half lead slipped into a 30-29 loss against Santa Rosa on Sept. 19. The Panthers fell to Laney 21-13 in their season opener and then defeated Foothill 23-7.
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The Panthers possess talent, however, in quarterback Taylor Laird, a bounceback from Kansas State. He’ll target top receivers Keylan Mack, a big-play threat, and Keith Brown.
7 MJC’s state ranking among 69 community college football teams
The Modesto sophomores will be motivated by their 34-27 loss to Sacramento last year. The Pirates were stopped at the 1 with five minutes left and, on the game’s final play from the 4, threw an interception in the end zone.
“It was a hard-fought game. A couple of false starts on the goal line pushed us back,” said MJC’s 365-pound tackle Niles Graham. “This year with our offensive line, we may not be the biggest as a group but we’re technically sound.”
With each week, evidence builds that MJC could push for a Valley Conference title. It starts with sophomore Trey Cooper, the Pirates’ tackle-breaking, 220-pound quarterback.
He’s ranked eighth in the state in rushing (93.7 yards per game) and has accounted for 10 touchdowns – five rushing and five passing. Though Diablo Valley’s Drew Anderson looked the part of the state’s No. 2 leading passer last week, MJC likes Cooper.
(We have) emotional maturity. We have so many leader types on the team. They keep playing. Your goal is that it becomes a part of the culture
MJC coach Rusty Stivers
“I’ll take the middle linebacker playing quarterback over the other guy,” Stivers said.
Cooper threw three touchdown passes – to Tim Knuettel for 64 yards and to Ravon Alexander for 40 and 17 yards – to ignite the fourth-quarter fireworks against the Vikings. The 40-yarder to Alexander with 7:21 left put MJC ahead for good.
The defense also fueled the fire with four fourth-quarter stops. Then, with the lead and the ball, MJC skillfully chewed the final 3:37 off the clock. A 30-yard, third-down gallop by Cooper clinched the win.
Modesto, unranked before the season, has gained respect. The Pirates have faced three teams that were ranked in the state’s top five and have beaten two of them. MJC also was competitive in a 51-41 loss to No. 2-ranked San Mateo. The result is a No. 7 ranking this week.
“It’s great to play with a group of close-knit guys,” Graham said. “We’re seeing the results on the field.”
Notes – Kickoff is 6 p.m. Saturday at Hughes Stadium. The game will be streamed live on sportsnetusa.net. ... Corner Bryan Pascual, whose fourth-quarter interception was critical in MJC’s comeback, has three interceptions in as many games. ... Defensive end Kyle Dawson recorded six tackles and a sack, including two knocked-down passes in the fourth quarter. ... Safety Herman Harris, who was held out of last week’s game (concussion), could see action in Sacramento.