The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
Now things get really interesting for College of San Mateo.
With two weeks remaining in the regular season, three teams are in contention for the Bay 6 Conference title. CSM (3-0 in Bay 6, 7-1 overall) is in the thick of the race, currently tied for first place with City College of San Francisco (3-0, 7-1) while Diablo Valley College (2-1, 6-2) trails by one game.
So, with CSM set to face DVC this coming Saturday before concluding regular-season play at Nov. 15 at CCSF, the Bulldogs are facing a full range of possibilities in terms of the playoff picture. If they win their final two games, they claim the conference title. If they win one and lose one, they gain an at-large bid. If they lose both, season over.
“[The games] are definitely important,” CSM slot back D.J. Peluso said. “At the same time, our coaches don’t let us look at stuff like that. He says, ‘Today we’re 1-0, tomorrow we’re 0-0.’ He doesn’t let us look at anything except for the game we just played. And Monday we come back and we’re 0-0 and we focus on the next opponent.”
Peluso (El Camino) got CSM off to its fastest start of the year against Saturday’s opponent, Foothill (0-3, 1-7). The sophomore took the pitch on an option play and sprinted 60 yards up the sideline to get the Bulldogs on the scoreboard just 1 minute, 47 seconds into the game. The run was Peluso’s longest of the season.
The Bulldogs kept adding on from there in a 63-10 rout of the Owls at College Heights Stadium.
Peluso went on to post a season-high 100 yards on seven carries. One week after sophomore Sammy Fanua tied a CSM record by rushing for four touchdowns, Peluso came darn close to also tying the record, running for three touchdowns. He came one yard shy of scoring a fourth.
“He’s hard to tackle sometimes,” CSM head coach Bret Pollack said. “He’s big and strong and has good enough speed. … Today he was very good.”
Peluso showed how tough he can be to tackle on his final score of the day, a 14-yard run in the third quarter to give the Bulldogs a 49-10 cushion. Peluso broke two tackles on the play and high-stepped over another with so much panache, the CSM public-address announcer dubbed the play as Peluso “pirouetting” when recapping the play to the 756 in attendance.
“I just go out there and run hard for my O-line who are blocking their butt off for me,” Peluso said. “I just try to make plays when I get the ball. That’s all I really can do.”
CSM got a record day from its defense though. The Bulldogs outgained the Owls 520-47 in total yards, while the ‘Dogs defense held the Foothill running game in check for minus-43 yards, a CSM record. The Bulldogs notched the record on the final play of the game when sophomore linebacker Steven Stewart blitzed the quarterback and tabbed CSM’s fifth sack on the day. The sack went for a 5-yard loss to surpass the former record of minus-42 yards, which was set last season.
“They were sending me on a blitz,” Stewart said. “Basically, I read the O-lineman … he was driving out really wide, so I gave him an inside move. It was a sack from there.”
CSM’s defense set the tone early with dominant performances from the middle of the D-line. Defensive tackle Fou Polataivao took the start in a three-man rotation with freshman Cody Brown (Serra) and freshman Mani Tonga. Foothill went three-and-out on its first drive with Polataivao paving the way for linebackers Mikias Alipate and Semisi Paea.
“On D-line, we emphasize letting the [linebackers] come in free,” Polataivao said. “So, our D-line doing that and setting the tone in the trenches lets our backers come in and make plays.”
Despite the record-breaking performance, Polataivao echoed the company line of improving on every performance.
“It was a good performance, but to me, I think we can do way better,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of potential in us.”
CSM led 21-0 at the end of the first quarter. Quarterback Justin Burgess connected with Raeshawn Lee for a 65-yard touchdown strike midway through the first quarter. Burgess aired out a spiral down the left sideline which Lee caught up with in tight coverage and jogged it into the end zone.
Lee went on to total a career-high 116 yards on three receptions.
Burgess was 8-of-15 for 178 yards passing on the day with strong protection throughout. Protecting the quarterback will be the key to CSM’s performance in the coming weeks. In the Bulldogs’ only loss of the season Oct. 4 at American River, Burgess was under pressure all evening and managed just six completions while throwing two interceptions. He has had just three passes picked off all season.
“He just needs to calm down and relax … run plays and play football,” Pollack said. “That’s why I try not to get young men caught up in who we’re playing because they play (mind) games with themselves. And there’s no need for that. There’s no need to add something it’s not. If [the opponents] play defense, you attack it. Everyone wants a rivalry, this or that. You’re just putting crap on it you don’t need to. And once he’s able to calm down and do that, he’s done well.”