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

The message to the College of San Mateo football team on “Tell the Truth Monday” revolved around a memory Bulldog Nation would more than happily forget.

In 2008, CSM watched from its locker room as two teams not dressed in blue and white played on their home field in the Bulldog Bowl.

When you’re a Bulldog, that should never happen. But it did.

And it could happen again.

Following CSM’s third straight NorCal Conference loss — a 46-43 overtime defeat at the hands of De Anza College — the Bulldogs sit with a 5-4 record. In order to be bowl eligible, they must beat Santa Rosa College on the road Saturday afternoon. A loss means the 2012 Bulldogs will get a good taste of what the 2008 team experienced.

“Our job is to make sure we take care of business and make sure that doesn’t happen again,” said Tim Tulloch, CSM defensive coordinator and assistant head coach. “It is a must-win. We’re not going [to the Bulldog Bowl] if we’re 5-5. That’s the decision from our head coach and our coaching staff. If we don’t win, we’re not going.”

In theory, if not enough teams manage 6-4 records, CSM could still be invited to play. But Tulloch said on Tuesday that head coach Bret Pollack would not accept the invitation. It’s do or die time for the Bulldogs.

“We’ve had some mistakes that have haunted us, especially in regard to turnovers,” Tulloch said. “It happened again on Saturday, not protecting the ball when we need to protect it. Our offense and special teams did a great job of putting up points and we just have to close it out.

“Bottom line is we have to learn how to finish. Four of the last five games have come down to one score, one play and we’ve had opportunities to make plays and we’ve been right there. The others teams we’ve played have made them and we haven’t. We just have to finish.”

CSM turned the ball over five times against the Dons — including a game-ending interception on their first offensive play in overtime. Santa Rosa has forced 19 turnovers in 2012.

De Anza racked up 46 points on a CSM defense that had to play without leading-tackler Tevita Lataimua and Sione Sina — both went down with injury. Against a quarterback the caliber of Josh McCain, not having their two best defenders cost the Bulldogs.

“Their quarterback is outstanding,” Tulloch said. “He reminds me of Julian Edelman. He’s a one-man show. We defended him well and he was a guy that was electric with the ball in his hands and made things happen. A guy like that, with an effort like that, you tip your cap to him.

“It hurt us big time,” Tulloch said of losing his linebackers. “Those two guys are two of our veteran leaders. They’re big-time playmakers for us and just as far as leadership you can say they’re the heart and soul of the team. There is no way to replace guys like Sina and Tevita. We just have to collectively come together and step up. We definitely missed them Saturday. Both guys are fighters though.”

Players like Michael Spivey were asked to fill in and performed admirably according to Tulloch. Spivey said preparation for the must-win game against Santa Rosa is well under way.

“It’s a big deal,” Spivey said. “It starts with practice — not just make it a big deal and perform on game day. We have to do all the little things in practice and pick up for Tevita and Sione. Just play together, as a family and play for each other  — discipline, everyone doing their assignments and doing it the right way. As long as we do what we do properly, we’re going to be fine.”

At 3-6, Santa Rosa won’t be playing in a bowl game this year. But there is no doubt they’d love to play spoiler against a conference foe.

“Defensively, they run to the ball,” Tulloch said. “They’re a hard-hitting, aggressive defense. On offense, they’re running a Texas Tech-style, throwing it all around and they put pressure on you with their scheme and their tempo and they have two good running backs this year. They’re legit backs. They pose some challenges. You have to defend the field horizontally, vertically and in the run game. So, when their quarterbacks are on, they’re usually very good.

“We have to have that killer instinct. Like that boxer in the 12th round, you have to fight, you have to throw haymakers until the bell rings. And that’s what we have to have.”