The margin between the Modesto Christian and Capital Christian high school fotball teams on the Grape Bowl scoreboard ended up being seven points on Saturday night.
But the real difference that allowed the Knights from Sacramento to continue their perfect season and claim a Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI title with a 35-28 victory is measured by the span of four years, and in the difference between a team and a program.
Capital Christian is a program that has been building toward this for four years, or as long as coach Phil Grams has been on the sidelines. It was a strong senior class under Grams for four years that has allowed the Knights to go 13-0 and claim this title.
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On the other sideline, Modesto Christian (11-2) emerged this season as a great team - one pieced together by coach Mike Parsons upon his return to Salida in April after four seasons at Clovis West.
“We got beat by a program that has been established over the last four years,” Parsons said. “It was too late for us to start in April and to accomplish this. Would two more months have mattered? Maybe not. Maybe four more years would have mattered.
“There was a little more punch on the other side from a team that had been in the weight room for four years.”
Punch, sure. Also one exceptional young man who was a difference-maker by himself.
Capital Christian running back Justice Shelton-Mosley has enjoyed an unstoppable week. On Wednesday, the senior accepted an academic aid package from Harvard, and followed that by running for 156 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries.
His final touchdown, a 2-yard run with 8:50 remaining, gave the Knights what appeared to be an insurmountable 35-21 lead. Why insurmountable? Because to that point the only force capable of stopping Capital Christian’s offense was a second-quarter clock that ran out with the Knights deep in MC territory.
But the Crusaders, who got 137 of their 251 rushing yards and three touchdowns from sophomore Chris Brown, needed only 24 seconds to make the game interesting again.
Quarterback Luke Andrew connected with Windsor Jamison for a 42-yard score on what was the second of three passes Andrew threw all night, pulling MC within 35-28.
But in order to have a chance to tie the game, the Crusaders would have to do something they hadn’t accomplished yet – stop the Knights.
And then, they did. Capital Christian used Shelton-Mosely three times in four plays, including a sweep to the left on fourth-and-1 from the MC 46 with 6:30 remaining that lost a yard.
The Crusaders went back on attack with fervor, gaining a first-and-goal at the 6. Three running plays gained only two yards, and Andrew’s fourth-down pass to Jamison fell incomplete with 3:19 remaining.
“On fourth and four we had that early but we faked it,” Parsons said. “That’s coaching. I should have told (Andrew) to step and throw quickly because the tight end was open early. That was on me for not telling him to throw early.”
Modesto Christian would not see the ball again, as the Knights converted a fourth-and-one from their own 13 with 1:41 remaining to seal the title.
Tears flowed as expected after the tough loss, but even in defeat, senior Conner Dowd – one of seven two-way starters for MC – had to admit his pride in how far the Crusaders had come in so short a time.
After all this was an undefeated Trans-Valley League team picked by TVL coaches to finish fifth, thanks to the unknown about what impact the new coaching staff would be able to make in so short a time.
“We knew there would be a lot of changes, but we had a lot of hope,” Dowd said. “We worked our butts off to get here and there was nobody in our league or even outside of our league who thought we would get this far. This was a great run.”
And while Parsons won’t go as far as to say that it was a mistake to leave MC after a 15-0 season and a state bowl championship, he knows he’s home and he’s proud of having taken the first step toward rebuilding the Crusaders’ football program.
“I had 11 great seniors who I loved to be around,” Parsons said. “I love coaching again - all of it. This has been a blast. MC is a special place and we’re back on the right track.
“The grass is never again going to be greener and I’m going to be here a long time.”