Upset alerts were ringing for the Modesto Junior College Pirates for most of the first half Saturday night.
And then it got ugly. Hide-your-eyes ugly. And the upset alerts were silenced.
Modesto somehow flipped a 19-10 lead into a 51-26 loss to fourth-ranked College of San Mateo, thanks to its second consecutive substandard second half.
The Pirates (0-2) are battling injuries and more than a few mistakes by their own hand. They even yielded a touchdown late in the game that shouldn’t have counted – more on that later – but it hardly mattered.
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“I thought we played better than the score indicated,” coach Sam Young said. “Those errors on offense put the score out of reach.”
Joe Legerrette-Luke started at quarterback but gave way in the second half to Spencer Thomas, last week’s starter, who dragged some sore ribs onto the field. The Pirates needed his arm to answer San Mateo’s pull-away.
“Adrenaline is an amazing thing,” Young said.
The results were mixed. Thomas rolled and found Mike Milbourne for a 22-yard touchdown strike, the only interruption to the Bulldogs’ second-half tidal wave.
That score was sandwiched by Thomas’ two interceptions and pick-6s for San Mateo touchdowns, however, the latter a 58-yard return by Anthony Hines that made it 44-26 with 2:16 left.
Then came an oddity. MJC let the kickoff roll into the end zone, where the Bulldogs’ Taylor Mashack picked it up. To his surprise, he was awarded a touchdown. Alas, NCAA rules do not require the return team to field the ball in the end zone. The game summary will record MJC’s allowing 14 points in 1 second by error. Regardless, it was a final face-slap.
“It’s happened to me twice. The first was 2004 against Delta,” Young remembered. “The official just didn’t know the rule.”
The incident, though bizarre, could not disguise MJC’s problems in front of about 2,000 on hand to watch the Pirates home opener on homecoming night.
They struggled against San Mateo quarterback Jeremy Cannon, a versatile freshman from Concord who passed for three touchdowns and carried a few MJC defenders into the end zone on his 28-yard dash for the Bulldogs’ first score. His accurate scoring passes to Kevin Kutchera (5 catches, 105 yards, 2 TDs) beat tight MJC coverage.
MJC’s most potent answer was sophomore tailback Anthony Cota, who missed almost all of last week’s opener at American River due to injury. He responded with 217 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.
His 88-yard rip for Modesto’s first touchdown provided early momentum. He sped down the middle and angled to his left, where he stutter-stepped defender Keith Marcus to the ground and raced the final 25 yards.
“I had the ball in the wrong hand and couldn’t stiff-arm him,” Cota said. “I just tried to stop quick and see if he ran by me. He just fell.”
Later, Cota again sped into open space and took advantage of a sustained downfield block by Zach Moreno to finish a 53-yard touchdown journey. That, supplemented by field goals of 41 and 40 yards by Thomas Langley, vaulted Modesto in front 19-10 with 4:06 left in the half.
From there, San Mateo countered. Cannon, as he was blind-sided to the ground, flipped 3 yards to Johan Williams for a TD 16 seconds before halftime.
Scoreboard aside, most of MJC’s mistakes were inflicted by the offense. A 5-to-1 turnover ratio paralyzed the Pirates, especially in the second half, and finding production other than Cota will become a subplot the rest of the season. They’ll travel to Diablo Valley for another nonleague game on Friday night.
“I know it’s going to get fixed this week,” Cota said. “Too many mental errors.”