REEDLEY -- If each loss brings a lesson in toughness, the Modesto Junior College football team is on its way to becoming one daunting opponent.
The Pirates toiled in a futile effort for the second consecutive week, losing to nonconference host Reedley 54-17 Saturday afternoon. A handful of unusual plays punctuated a dominating day for the Tigers, who scored on three interception returns and knocked MJC quarterback Chad Draper out of the game in the third quarter.
"We thought we were prepared for them," MJC defensive back Tim Brown said. "They came out and just dominated. Our practices were great. This was one of our best weeks. It felt like we worked a lot harder than it showed."
Marquell Colston led the Pirates with 188 total yards, including an 89-yard touchdown pass from Draper late in the first quarter. Colston caught a short screen pass at the Reedley 11-yard line and outran defenders the length of the field to pull Modesto within a touchdown, 20-13.
Colston returned a kickoff 20 yards, caught five passes for 112 yards and ran for 76 yards on 11 carries. He said the Pirates view their three losses as building blocks, particularly when overmatched by teams that feature national talent like Siskiyous and Reedley.
"I can't say it meant a lot to me," Colston said of his long touchdown run. "When you lose, stats don't mean anything. This is nothing. We're working for league right now.
"We're going to see who's really tough or who's going to fall to the side. Coach (Sam Young) talked the whole week about if you get beat up, you've got to get up."
Modesto got beat up all day -- shut out in the second quarter and held to four points in the second half -- but showed its hardiness to the end. Two blocked point-after kicks, a Brown interception and a safety were among the Pirates' highlights.
Then there was Vince Andrews' 85-yard play for two points. Midway through the fourth quarter, Reedley's Aaron Wilkins intercepted his second deflected MJC pass for a touchdown, putting the Tigers ahead 54-15.
The Pirates blocked the point-after kick attempt, and Andrews recovered the ball. Much like Colston had earlier in the game, Andrews sprinted down the Reedley sideline, just out of reach of any Tiger defenders. The play earned two points for Modesto.
"It was worth it, though," Andrews said. "It felt good. The effort alone showed a lot, mine and my team's effort. We didn't quit trying to score, even when the win was unreachable at that time."
Wilkins scored on interception returns of 50 and 25 yards in the second half, both after balls were tipped into his hands. The first came when Draper was hit in mid-throw and gave Reedley a 48-15 lead with 5:21 in the third.
Draper stayed on the ground in apparent pain. He did not return, suffering from neck spasms. Draper finished with 197 yards passing, completing 15 of 22 passes with two interceptions.
He led Modesto's first scoring charge, completing six passes in a 10-play, 70-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown throw to Marcus Allen.
Reedley starter Darius Reynolds threw two 42-yard touchdown passes to Juawain Spurlock and ran for a 44-yard score in the first quarter. Reynolds also scored on a 1-yard run, totaling 79 yards on seven carries and completing 11 of 14 passes for 165 yards before leaving the game in the third quarter to make way for two other quarterbacks.
Young said the Pirates are getting better at sustaining their effort when playing from behind. Reedley presented another opportunity to test the Modesto philosophy of playing the same way regardless of the score or time remaining.
"Obviously it's darn tough when you're down and the score gets lopsided," Young said. "That's a true test for the team and as a coaching staff. Hopefully it toughens us and helps us prepare for next week's game against West Hills."