The College of San Mateo Bulldogs logo at midfield of the team’s College Heights Stadium is fairly prominent.
That cartoon of a growling Bulldog, fangs exposed, ready to pounce, it looked like a puppy dog compared to the way the actual Bulldogs football team played Saturday in its second Nor Cal title victory in three years.
No. 1-seed CSM (12-0 overall) kept its historic undefeated record intact, in style, dismantling No. 4 Modesto for a 41-0 victory in the CCCAA Northern California regional championship game. With the win, the Bulldogs advance to the state championship bowl to face undefeated Southern California champion Riverside on Dec. 14 at Bakersfield College.
“This is awesome,” CSM sophomore Jason Lloyd said. “I came in here with the thought of not knowing anyone and they embraced me. I made a family here. … To have a season like this one is just unspeakable. I love it.”
Playing in windy and wet conditions — though the afternoon was free of expected rain showers — the Bulldogs overcame an early turnover. After coughing up the ball on the second play from scrimmage at its own 30, CSM took the ball right ball when sophomore Akeal Lailand recovered a fumble to plays later.
“That’s exactly how we wanted it,” Lailand said. “We weren’t trippin’ if we turned the ball over. We knew we would come back and play our game.”
It was the first of two possible catastrophes the Bulldogs avoided while the game remained scoreless throughout most of the first quarter.
After the Bulldogs turned it over on downs at the other end of the field, both teams exchanged punts, with Modesto getting the much better end of the deal by pinning CSM to its own 1-foot line.
Freshman quarterback Luke Bottari took the first carry for 5 yards, and sophomore running back Jermaine Jackson followed with a 13-yard run to give the Bulldogs some breathing room when they ultimately punted the ball away.
“That was huge,” Lloyd said. “The momentum after that just kept rolling and rolling. … They pinned us to the 1 and we took it and said: ‘So what? Now what?’ And we just kept going.”
Then the CSM defense went to work in producing the day’s first points.
On the final play of the first quarter, Modesto looked to punt from its own 34. But a botched snap saw the punter chase down the ball. As he turned upfield to try and make something out of nothing, he was hit by CSM freshman Dillon Juniel, who stripped the ball loose, picked it up and ran to the end zone for a score.
The Bulldogs upped the lead to 24-0 by halftime. Jackson dialed up a pair of scoring runs, one of 32 yards and one for 1. In between the TDs, kicker Dylan Moghaddam booted a 28-yard field goal.
Jackson carried eight times for 77 yards and added three catches for 19 yards. His first score came on the heels of an injury to freshman running back Darrell Page. The play after Page hobbled off, Jackson took the ball to the house for a 32-yard score.
“I had fresh legs,” Jackson said. “It happened at the beginning of the game so, I was like, ‘I’m good.’”
In the second half, CSM looked even hungrier than the first.
“Something we talked about this week was just leaving no doubt,” CSM head coach Tim Tulloch said. “When we talked at halftime it was, the score is 0-0, we’re going to go back out there and play like a hungry, humble football team. We’re just going to leave no doubt. We’re going to earn our way to go play for state. That’s the thing I’m proud of with these kids is they don’t take their foot off the pedal. As the games get bigger, their focus, their attention, their work ethic gets even sharper.”
Tulloch raved about CSM dominating in all three facets of the game. And his team showed it in the second half.
Sophomore Terrell Carter electrified the crown with a 64-yard punt return for a score on the Bulldogs’ first touch of the half. Two minutes later, sophomore Isaiah Downes returned an interception 51 yards for a score. Near the end of the third quarter, Moghaddam closed out the day’s scoring with a 28-yard field goal.
Modesto — ranking fifth in the state with 459.3 yards per game on the year — was held to 118 total yards of offense.
“They were the No. 1 ranked offense in Nor Cal, and we were the No. 1 ranked defense,” Tullcoch said. “And something had to give. Our defense was out to prove that they’re playoff ready.”