One of the mantras of the Modesto Junior College football coaching staff is "Stay in the moment."
On Saturday, the Pirates and coach Sam Young gave themselves a moment to savor, beating Diablo Valley 43-34 to clinch the Golden Gate Conference title.
It is Young's first championship in his eight years as head coach and Modesto's first outright league crown since 1980. Modesto shared championships in 1990, '91 and '95.
Regardless of who wins the season finale at West Valley (1-3 GGC) on Saturday, the Pirates win the GGC title outright because of their head-to-head decisions over the rest of the conference.
As conference champions, the Pirates are in the Graffiti Bowl for the second year in a row -- a bowl berth being the prize guaranteed to conference champs. Young has won three Graffiti Bowls, but he needed some time for the reality of the conference title to sink in.
"I'm pretty much numb," Young said. "I'm so pleased the kids kept playing hard all four quarters. That's one of the things we preach, 'Go all out. One play at a time, as long as it takes.' It's not original, but it's true."
The philosophy was clearly in evidence early in the second quarter when Marcus Allen recovered a Willie Munford fumble for a touchdown in the end zone. Munford had run nearly 26 yards with the ball.
Munford came off the field saying "I never fumble!" but Young reminded him that play was over. It worked out well for Modesto, which kept its focus.
"That was a hustle play on Marcus' part, all extra hustle," Young said. "The ball pops out and you're on it."
The Pirates had to hold their collective breath to go up by two scores late in the game. Edgar De La Cruz bounced a 38-yard field goal off the crossbar and through the uprights for the final margin with 2:17 to play. It was his first field goal of the season, though Young pointed out he had attempted just three before Saturday.
"The field goal was huge," Young said. "Edgar's been kicking really well in practice. If we don't make it, they still have to drive all the way down the field, with no timeouts."
Marquell Colston moved one step closer to becoming Modesto's second 1,000-yard rusher in four years.
With 122 yards on 22 carries, Colston is just 58 yards away from becoming the fifth Modesto running back to eclipse the mark in a single season. Dannie Carr ran for 1,060 yards in 2004.
Colston is also just 64 yards away from becoming the all-time leader in all-purpose yards in a single season.
A victory over West Valley would also mark the first undefeated league season for Modesto since 1980. That's the year the Pirates went 10-0, claiming a mythical national championship.
Saturday's game brought another mythical being to mind for Young, that of the Phoenix rising from the ashes. Modesto went 1-4 to start the season, but things started clicking during the bye week.
The Pirates have outscored opponents 204-115 their last four games. Last week against Chabot the offense set a school record for total yards in a single game with 671.
It's all about staying in the moment.
"You can't let some adversity affect how you play," Young said when talking about penalties, but a statement he could have also made about the season. "You've got to keep playing hard."