Quarterback Justin Burgess, right, couldn’t get the CSM offense in sync in Saturday’s 23-7 loss to CCSF. Burgess was sacked five times and the Bulldogs committed four turnovers.

Quarterback Justin Burgess, right, couldn’t get the CSM offense in sync in Saturday’s 23-7 loss to CCSF. Burgess was sacked five times and the Bulldogs committed four turnovers. Photo by Patrick Nguyen

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

Needing a win Saturday to ensure its spot in the California Community College Athletic Association football playoffs, No. 2 College of San Mateo learned the hard way that can be tough to do when the team keeps shooting itself in the foot.

CSM’s top-ranked rushing attack never really got on track against the stifling defense of No. 3 City College of San Francisco and, more importantly, the Bulldogs turned the ball over four times in Rams territory as CCSF (5-0 in Bay 6, 9-1 overall) coasted to a 23-7 win. The win helped the Rams claim the Bay 6 League title and clinch Northern California’s top seed in next week’s playoffs while the loss left the Bulldogs on the outside of the playoffs looking in despite its 8-2 record and lofty perch in the power rankings.

The Bulldogs (4-1, 8-2) entered the game averaging more than 250 yards per game on the ground but managed just 73 yards rushing as CCSF loaded the box to stop the option and swarmed to the ball. Despite the Rams’ stingy defense, CSM still had plenty of opportunities to get back into the game. But four times the Bulldogs marched inside the Rams’ 35-yard line and four times they came away with nothing thanks to three costly interceptions and a lost fumble.

After the game, it was hard for CSM head coach Brett Pollack to find many other reasons why his team had come up short.

“We had four red zone chances and you just can’t expect to do that and still win the football game,” Pollack said. “We had our chances to score, we just didn’t execute the plays very well and you saw what happened because of that.”

The first half was mostly a defensive standoff as both teams struggled to find any rhythm on offense. Bulldogs pass-rushers Adam Sagapolu and Randy Allen combined to sack Rams quarterback Anthony Rodriguez three times. The Bulldogs also intercepted Rodriguez twice. But every time CSM’s defense took the ball away, the offense gave the ball back.

The team had two great chances to strike first and take the lead. The first chance came after the Bulldogs started a drive inside Rams territory when cornerback Malik Beachum stepped in front of a Rodriguez pass near midfield and returned the ball 12 yards to the Rams’ 35-yard line. But on their first play from scrimmage following the interception, quarterback Justin Burgess tried to take a shot downfield and was intercepted near the end zone.

Just when it looked like neither team would score before halftime, the Bulldogs mounted a late drive and marched into the red zone. But once again Burgess floated a pass near the sideline and Rams defensive back Hashim Boyd stepped in front of it then returned it 76 yards, setting up a CCSF field goal as time expired in the first half.

The Bulldogs made a conscious effort to get the ball to their bigger receivers to start the second half. They did have success doing that, getting the ball down to the CCSF 21-yard line on its first drive of the second half. But the Bulldogs once again came away with zero points when Miles Willis fumbled the ball back to CCSF on third down. After the fumble, CCSF needed just two plays to move the ball into Bulldogs territory. And on the third play of the drive, Rams running back Elijah Dale scampered 38 yards to score the game-clinching touchdown.

The Rams started to use their size on the offensive line to their advantage in the second half as they continued to pound the run and wear down the Bulldogs’ defense. In fact, CCSF ran for 213 yards in the game and Dale did the yeoman’s work, rushing 30 times for 153 yards and the touchdown.

“They dominated time of possession and our defense played way too many snaps in the second half,” Pollack said. “I haven’t seen the stats yet but we left them out there for too long and that’s why [CCSF] was able to run the ball effectively and wear us down.”

Saturday’s matchup was both a de facto league title and elimination game, especially once it became clear American River was going to beat Sacramento. Each CCSF and CSM entered the game with one loss to American River, leaving the loser of the Bay 6 League game on the short end of the tie-breaker. Now, despite its 8-2 record and arguably being one of the best teams in Northern California, CSM can only turn its sights on the Bulldog Bowl this Saturday at College Heights Field and try to finish the season strong against Valley League co-champion Laney College.

“We knew the magnitude of this game and we knew what this game meant before we got on the field,” Pollack said. “The bottom line is that we lost two games and if we don’t lose two games, then we would still be in it right now.”