The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.

If football — a game played on a field stretching 300 feet from one end zone to the other — is a game of inches, the tone of an entire season can just as easily turn on something as minuscule as several plays.

While it wouldn’t be difficult for College of San Mateo’s players and coaches to wonder what might have been, the Bulldogs have chosen instead to focus on what lies in front of them. CSM recovered from consecutive losses to Foothill, City College of San Francisco and Butte to beat Laney College 14-7 Friday night.

Two of the Bulldogs’ three losses came in the final minute — a long touchdown pass given up against Foothill and a field goal with three seconds left against Butte — but players never lost heart, CSM defensive coordinator Tim Tulloch said.

“The guys have worked incredibly hard, and that’s this conference; one play here, one play there is the difference between a win and a loss,” he said. “You look at most games in this conference, not just us, they’re decided on a play here or there.”

The 7-3 Bulldogs — fourth in NorCal Conference play at 2-3 — will now finish the season Saturday against visiting College of the Sequoias (6-4) in the Bulldog Bowl. The difference in the game’s meaning compared to a season ago is significant, as CSM beat Reedley 31-20 last year for a NorCal title and spot in the state championship game.

“We’d love to be 10-0, but these guys have done a great job and every week they’ve worked on making the changes and correcting things,” Tulloch said. “The differences between the way we played in the second half against Butte and the Laney game were night and day.”

The Bulldogs will now go from playing a rare night game in Oakland last week to a noon start Saturday at home. CSM head coach Bret Pollack said there is no greater emphasis on winning this game compared to any other that was on the schedule, but it’s certainly no less important to get a win in the final CSM game for 32 outgoing sophomores.

Tulloch agreed, saying the Bulldogs have a unique opportunity in the finale.

“I think Coach Pollack touched on this briefly — this is a reward for our guys, for what they’ve accomplished this season,” he said. “Our guys are getting an opportunity to play in a bowl game, it’s a great bowl. … It’s the last game for many sophomores, who have been for us for two or three years, and it’s important for us to send those guys out on a good note.”

Doing so will require stopping the Giants, who are on a three-game winning streak entering Saturday. The two teams most recently met in the Bulldog Bowl in 2006, with CSM winning 29-23 in overtime.

The Giants are led by a two-headed rushing attack in the form of Eric Johnson (656 yards, five touchdowns) and Brant Botill (520 yards, four touchdowns), who each average more than five yards per carry. Jeremy Butler leads COS in receiving with 557 yards and six touchdowns, while Giants quarterback Phillip Brandt is throwing for an average of 115 yards per game with seven touchdowns to five interceptions.

The Bulldogs’ offense will likely counter with its own vaunted ground game, which is averaging 305 yards per contest and features a collection of backs — Therman McGowan, Vai Liu, Tim Celestine and Danny Godfrey. Fleet-footed quarterback Julian Bernard also will play a pivotal role. He gained 70 yards rushing against Laney in addition to throwing for 136 yards and a touchdown.

One matchup that could be particularly interesting is Bulldogs receiver Rahsaan Vaughn and Giants defensive back Miguel Rodriguez. Vaughn leads CSM with 928 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns, and he is averaging almost 20 yards per catch. Rodriguez, only a freshman, has seven interceptions on the season, two of which he returned for touchdowns.

All-Conference honors were handed out this past week, and San Mateo nabbed six first-team spots: offensive lineman Jeremy Galten, defensive lineman Langi Haupeakui, linebacker Brandon Francesconi, defensive back Ron Fields and Vaughn at receiver