The 2014 football season figured to be difficult for the Modesto Junior College Pirates.
So far, it is.
Last week, they were stopped twice inside the 5 yard line in the closing minutes and lost to Sacramento 34-27. This Saturday afternoon, they walk onto the synthetic turf of City College of San Francisco, the home of the 12-time Northern California champion and seven-time state champion Rams.
“We’ll be considerable underdogs, if history is the judge,” MJC coach Sam Young said.
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Modesto and San Francisco meet for the first time in 24 years due to the tougher scheduling mandated by the Northern California Football Coaches Association. San Francisco placed third in the 2013 NorCal Conference, thus the matchup against Modesto, which tied for second – but was seeded third for scheduling purposes – in the Valley Conference.
MJC (1-3) is confronted with more issues than the schedule. The Pirates were down to only two quarterbacks last week against Sac – starter Spencer Thomas and wide receiver Embry Allen Jr. Fortunately for Modesto, both escaped injury.
Young said both Thomas and Allen will get playing time at QB on Saturday, while Trey Cooper – who had planned to sit out the season – provides insurance as the No. 3. Another quarterback, Joseph LeGerrette-Luke, left the team due to a medical matter last week.
Thomas, fitted with a flak jacket to protect a cracked rib, completed 21 of 34 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown. He also threw three interceptions, one for a Sac TD.
MJC’s five turnovers hurt, and so did its late-game breakdowns in the red zone. Sac scored touchdowns all three times it got inside the 20, while the Pirates were 2 of 4. Overall, it doesn’t require an “A” in quantum mechanics to identify the Pirates’ major headache: they’ve turned it over 13 times in their three losses.
“We never really got them out of their comfort zone,” Young said. “We just took turns at every position making mistakes.”
Elsewhere, Modesto continues to show improvement over 2013 on defense. One of its early standouts is outside linebacker Jeremiah Walters, a McClymonds High graduate who performed mostly on special teams at Idaho in 2012 before the firing of coach Robb Akey. He attended MJC last year before finding a home in the middle of the Pirate defense.
“Walters is a vocal leader,” Young said. “He’s a little older and having played at the Division 1 level, the players look up to him. His leadership is appreciated during this rough patch.”
Tailback Anthony Cota rushed for 147 yards and three touchdowns against the Panthers. He’s tied for first in the state with eight touchdowns, and he’s No. 2 in the state with 138 rushing yards per game.
One fact encourages the Pirates. San Francisco (3-1) was blanked 13-0 last week by American River, which Modesto extended to the final minutes moments before falling 37-27. Surprisingly, ARC limited the Rams to only 160 net yards.
“It doesn’t sound like they (San Francisco) are clicking on all cylinders,” Young said, “but they’re still formidable.”
Notes – Kickoff at CCSF is at 1 p.m. The Pirates are off next week before they open the Valley Conference season on Oct. 18 at Sequoias. Modesto was beaten by the Rams 35-20 in the 1990 San Francisco Bay Bowl. ... The MJC wide receiver corps, ravaged by injuries since the season opener, took another hit when Fotias Jordanoglou suffered a broken collarbone early in the fourth quarter last weekend and is out for the season. Jordanoglou caught touchdown passes in his last two games, including the game-winner at Diablo Valley. “He was a real bright spot for us,” Young said.