Modesto Junior College's Branon Gray fights for yardage after hauling in a pass during a 23-20 win against San Francisco City College on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, at MJC Stadium in Modesto, Calif. (Samanta Schmidt/Front Row Preps)

MJC magic: Pirates blow lead, then pull out thrilling win over San Francisco

Ron Agostini

MODESTO – A game that long before had spun sideways required a decisive dose of clarity, and whomever provided it would be the victor.

The Modesto Junior College Pirates did the honors Saturday night while City College of San Francisco spent its final timeout. It was third-and-goal from the 5 with the Rams leading 20-17.  How would MJC save the day?

Modesto Junior College's Brandon Gray helped the Pirates overcome 19 penalties for 144 yards. (Samantha Schmidt/Front Row Preps)

Coach Rusty Stivers called for a play-action bootleg by elusive quarterback Danny Velasquez and, sure enough, the stubborn CCSF defense bit. Receiver Brandon Gray, left alone, snared the game-winning touchdown with 1:07 left.

Modesto 23, San Francisco 20. Just another Saturday night at MJC Stadium

“All I was thinking in my head was that I had to win it for my team,” Gray said. “Emotions ran through my body, but I had to come down with that ball.”

Gray’s words opened a window to the football madness that played out. MJC blew an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter and committed a you-must-be-kidding 19 penalties for 144 yards. How does any team slip through that double-knotted noose?

Again, the Pirates thought clearly when it mattered the most.

“We needed to get Danny out in space,” Stivers reasoned. “Brandon came back to the ball and made the play. That was impressive.”

MJC, ranked seventh in California, has started 3-0 for the first time in seven years. Better still, it waited 62 years to beat the mighty Rams (2-1) in last year’s bowl game, and now have frustrated eighth-ranked CCSF twice in about nine months.

Gray celebrated at game’s end with second-year corner Darrien Young for good reason. Young, moments after the go-ahead score, jumped Christian Willis’ sideline route and intercepted the ball only a few feet from the Rams’ bench with 17 seconds left at the MJC 36. His joyous circular sprint back to the Modesto sideline launched all those post-game grins.

“He had beat me three or four times on that one tonight,” Young said. “I read it and reacted. Best feeling in the world.”

Defense, for once, carried the night. San Francisco pressured Velasquez, who scrambled effectively for 159 yards but lacked precision with his passes. Conversely, MJC limited San Francisco to only six points over the first three quarters

The Rams pulled to within 17-12, then shocked Modesto with a thunderbolt to gain its first lead. Quarterback Ethan Bullock, rolling right, threw across his body to Kenden Robinson Jr. who romped through open space to complete the 94-yard catch-and-run touchdown. San Francisco added Bullock’s 2-point toss to Max Pierce to lead 20-17 with 7:06 to go.

Modesto responded with a thrill-packed 89-yard march, spiced by a change-of-pace. Backup quarterback Brett Neves trotted onto the field and flipped a dart to fellow Downey High alum Anderson Grover for a 26-yard gain to the CCSF 7.

Neves has contributed big plays in all three MJC wins. The latest preceded the winning touchdown, one that may have MJC fans wondering:  Is there something special going on here?

“In the end, it’s all of us working together in a flow to get the job done,” Stivers said. “That’s what happened.”

A down-to-earth explanation after an other-worldly night.

Modesto JC 23, CC San Francisco 20

San Francisco      6-0-0-14 – 20

Modesto                 7-3-7-6 – 23

1st Quarter

MJC – Jordan Porter 58 pass from Danny Velasquez (Parker Bonin kick)

CCSF – Ethan Bullock 4 run (kick failed)

2nd Quarter

MJC – FG 26 Bonin

3rd Quarter

MJC – Michael Ramos 1 run (Bonin kick)

4th Quarter

CCSF – Roderick Gaskins Jr. 12 pass from Bullock (pass failed)

CCSF – Kenden Robinson Jr. 94 pass from Bullock (Max Pierce pass from Bullock)

MJC – Brandon Gray 5 pass from Velasquez (kick failed)

Records – CCSF 2-1, MJC 3-0