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

CSM running back Sammy Fanua ran for a career-high 77 yards in Saturday's big win over No. 3-ranked Santa Rosa.

CSM running back Sammy Fanua ran for a career-high 77 yards in Saturday's big win over No. 3-ranked Santa Rosa. Photo by Patrick Nguyen

College of San Mateo freshman Miles Willis made the first two catches of his collegiate career count on Saturday, as the slot receiver grabbed two touchdowns in the No. 4-ranked Bulldogs’ 24-21 win over No. 3 Santa Rosa at CSM’s College Heights Stadium.

Each of Willis’ receptions gave CSM a lead. He had a 35-yard touchdown catch from starting quarterback Jeremy Cannon in the second quarter to break a scoreless tie. Then in the third quarter amid a 14-14 tie, Willis hooked up with backup quarterback Justin Burgess for a 15-yard score to give the Bulldogs the lead for good.

CSM’s defense yielded its single highest yard total of the season but delivered in the clutch. Santa Rosa gained 413 total yards with quarterback Christian McAlvain’s 13-of-33 passing for 220 yards and two touchdowns. But the Bear Cubs converted a mere 1-of-15 times in third-down situations.

“When yards directly equal points, I’ll care about the yards,” CSM head coach Bret Pollack said.

Bulldogs linebacker Randy Allen led a rush that saw CSM tab six sacks. The sophomore Allen had two-and-a-half sacks to jump into the top 10 in the state. He currently ranks No. 7 among California Community College Athletic Association sack leaders.

With the win, CSM (1-0 in Bay 6 Division, 5-1 overall) got past what is arguably its toughest Bay 6 opponent to start league play with a key victory.

“Any chance you have to beat a 5-0 team, they’re 5-0 for a reason, so that’s very rewarding,” Pollack said.

Over the next two weeks, the Bulldogs match up with De Anza and Foothill — the two teams have one overall win between them — before closing the season against No. 9 Diablo Valley and No. 7 San Francisco. The loss for Santa Rosa (0-1, 5-1) is its first of the season.

“The next game is the De Anza Dons and nothing else matters until we play them,” Pollack said.

CSM saw several offensive starters return to the starting lineup Saturday after injuries had taken a toll throughout nonconference play. Cannon returned at quarterback and Michael Latu at running back after the two were banged up in Week 3. But the Bulldogs got the biggest offensive performances from staples Burgess and sophomore running back Sammy Fanua, the two of whom accounted for over half of CSM’s total offense.

Burgess emerged in the second half to complete 6 of 13 passes for 96 yards. Fanua carried 14 times for a career-high 77 yards and a touchdown. The Bulldogs gained 331 total yards throughout.

After neither team could move the ball in the first quarter, CSM took over at its own 45-yard line early in the second quarter and quickly cashed in. Latu started the drive with an 18-yard carry. Two plays later, Cannon connected with Willis for the freshman’s first collegiate reception on a 35-yard touchdown strike.

Santa Rosa answered right back, capitalizing on an eight-play, 75-yard drive which started with a 34-yard quarterback keeper by McAlvain. Once inside the red zone, Santa Rosa’s Desmond Nisby scored on a 2-yard run to tie it 7-7.

The seesaw defensive battle continued until the final possession of the half, when Santa Rosa drove deep into CSM territory. With second-and-goal at the Bulldogs’ 10-yard line, however, Santa Rosa drew a holding penalty. The yellow flag proved costly as two plays later, Bear Cubs kicker Levi Paine missed wide on a 37-yard field goal attempt to keep the tie intact heading into the half.

Santa Rosa took its only lead of the game early in the third quarter, when McAlvain hooked up with Terrence Drew for a 71-yard touchdown pass.

But the Bear Cubs’ 14-7 lead lasted a mere 1 minute, 21 seconds as CSM sophomore D.J. Peluso returned the ensuing kickoff 40 yards to set up a three-play scoring drive. Fanua had the big play from scrimmage with a 33-yard touchdown run, to tie it at 14-14.

Then CSM place-kicker Justin Watts produced a successful onside kick to help the Bulldogs surge back into the lead. After a CSM holding penalty forced a third-and-15, Burgess completed a 29-yard pass to Elias Vargas for a first down. On the following play, Burgess found Willis for a 15-yard touchdown pass to give CSM a 21-14 lead.

Early in the fourth quarter, Watts added insurance with a 39-yard field goal to put CSM up by 10. Santa Rosa clawed right back. After a 52-yard run by Nisby on the following possession, McAlvain hit Mikal Stoney-Quitoriano for a 2-yard touchdown. But CSM’s defense didn’t allow another first down in the game to hold its 3-point margin until the closing gun.

“I like the fact we played hard, we battled and we reduced our penalties. It created an advantage,” Pollack said. “The special teams, for sure, were fighting hard and playing hard. I like what I saw there.”

Pollack said Cannon’s departure from the game was precautionary; the plan is to ease Cannon back into action after missing three previous games with a knee injury.

The Bulldogs travel to De Anza this coming Saturday at 1 p.m. They return home Nov. 1 to take on Foothill.