Rams Defeat Pirates in Thrilling Conference Rivalry Game


Photo by: Ben Hensley

Freshman Linebacker Keenan Wolf scans the offense prior to the snap during the Rams’ win over conference rival Modesto Junior College on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019

Story By: Ben Hensley, Sports Editor

“These are the two best teams in our conference.”

Those were the words of Rams’ football head coach Tony Caviglia following their 27-10 win at homecoming.

Saturday, Nov. 2 those words were made reality on the field in a thrilling 26-24 Rams’ victory over the Modesto Junior College Pirates.

“We played a good football team tonight,” Caviglia said following the win on Saturday. The win solidified the 6-2 Rams overall in the conference lead over the Pirates, guaranteeing the Rams first place in the conference if they are able to win one of their final two games.

Photo by: Ben Hensley
Freshman outside linebacker Rodney Woods forces a fumble on Modesto Pirates’ quarterback Danny Velasquez during the Rams’ 26-24 win over their conference rival on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019

The first quarter gave the rowdy Modesto crowd the impression that they would be treated to a highly defensive battle, with both teams unable to sustain a drive longer than four plays with the exception of a 14 play opening drive by the Pirates, leading to a field goal.

The Rams were able to answer with a field goal after their own 14 play drive, drawing the score even at 3-3. With Modesto knocking at the Rams’ door early in the second quarter, the defense came up with a huge stop on fourth and one after the Pirates drove all the way to the 4-yard line of FCC.

Following the stop, an unsportsmanlike penalty for celebration against FCC, and another penalty for delay of game, the Rams battled through adversity to put together a 16 play, 79 yard drive, ending in another field goal, putting the Rams ahead with 43 seconds on the clock.

As the first half expired, the Rams led 6-3, with all six Rams’ points coming off the foot of freshman kicker Jack Cooper, in what appeared to be a classic ‘80s-esque defensive battle.

“Both defenses were playing good,” Caviglia said, complimenting both defensive units. “We got a couple good field goals out of our kicker which is good to see, and I think it was a tough defensive battle in the first half.”

The second half started with the Pirates’ moving the ball with efficiency until their 8-play drive sputtered out, leading to a punt, giving the Rams the ball at their own five yard line. After one first down followed by a penalty against the offense, Jonah Johnson dropped back and fired over the middle, connecting with freshman wide receiver Milton Clements who flew down the field en route to a 92 yard touchdown.

“We didn’t want to be in too many third and longs because those are tough calls and I really feel like our offense was able to do that,” Caviglia said.

Johnson finished the day with 255 yards on 15-30 passing, paired with 12 yards on the ground on seven rush attempts.

Facing yet another dual threat passer, Pirates’ quarterback Danny Velasquez seemingly tried to will the Pirates back into the game on the next drive, completing two of four passing attempts and losing one yard after being forced out of bounds. Modesto was able to swap field position punting the ball inside the Rams’ 20-yard line, downed at the 14 to start FCC’s ensuing drive.

The theme for the Rams in the third quarter seemed to be big plays, after moving the ball near midfield, sophomore running back Rico Rosario broke off for a 53 yard rush to the Pirate’s 4-yard line. Freshman running back Marcus Washington capped the drive off with a 4-yard rush into the endzone, pushing the Rams in front 20-3, in a game that seemed well in hand.

Following the drive, the Rams lost a key player to injury, when freshman defensive back Kiundre McDowel collided with Pirates’ receiver Lucas Curtis. McDowel was carted off the field and would not return to the game.

Initially the injury seemed to rattle the Rams. An energy that seemed palpable on the sidelines lacked following McDowel’s abrupt departure from the contest.

Even a fumble recovery on the ensuing play in Modesto territory couldn’t help the Rams shake their seemingly rattled nerves, as FCC went three-and-out on two consecutive drives, separated by a 72-yard touchdown pass from Velasquez to Modesto receiver Jordan Porter, bringing the Pirates to within two scores, 20-10.

Following the Rams’ second consecutive three-and-out, Modesto drove right back down the field in front of a re-energized crowd who cheered loudly as Pirates’ running back rushed for three yards into the endzone, shrinking the Rams’ lead to just a field goal at 20-17.

“We grew some strength out of [McDowel’s injury] and were able to play good enough to win,” Caviglia said.

“He was talking and he was moving,” Caviglia added regarding the injury to McDowel. “We just kinda calmed him a little bit. We think we’ll get Kiundre [McDowel] back.”

The next drive seemed to revitalize the offense. Despite missing a field goal, the Rams were able to bleed nearly five minutes off the clock, leaving the Pirates’ 5:48 in the fourth quarter to close the deficit. Their next drive however ended in yet another three-and-out.

The Pirates seemingly ran out of gas towards the end of the game, playing mistake prone football with a fumble by Velasquez, and a drive that ended in a Toa Scanlan interception, returning the ball back to the Pirates’ 11-yard line following an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Modesto.

The very next play seemingly sealed the deal, as Rosario ran for 11-yards and a touchdown, extending the Rams’ lead to 26-17 after Cooper missed the extra point – his only miss of the night.

“We just had the mindset of ‘this is a do-or-die.’ If we lose our season is basically done November 16th,” Rosario said following the game. Rosario ended the day with 139 yards on 23 attempts and a score.

With 1:18 left in the fourth quarter, the Rams defense took the field, intent on stopping the Pirates’ comeback attempt. After allowing Modesto to drive down the field quickly and score, FCC recovered the attempted onside kick from Modesto, effectively sealing the deal with a Rams 26-24 victory over their conference rival.

“We left a little bit too much time on the clock, but that happens,” Caviglia said following the win. “To be able to run the ball against that defense it just shows what kind of offense we are.”

The Rams, now 6-2 overall, currently ride a three game winning streak. With their conference record at 3-0, the Rams look poised to repeat as conference champions, barring back-to-back losses in their final two games.

FCC’s final regular season home game will be a 1 p.m. start on Saturday, Nov. 9, at Ratcliffe Stadium against the 5-3 College of the Sequoia’s Giants.