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

If Saturday’s College of San Mateo football home opener is any indication of what to expect this season, it’s going to be one wild ride.

The Bulldogs won a blistering scoring showdown 51-41 over Modesto Saturday afternoon at College Heights Stadium, despite the Pirates outgaining CSM 446-276 in total offense.

“Modesto did a good job trying to spread the ball around and we had to get our guys to the right spots,” CSM head coach Bret Pollack said. “We had a bit of a chess match going on out there.”

One of the reasons for CSM’s low offensive output was a kick-return team that set up premium field position all day long. The Bulldogs totaled 356 yards in total returns, including 298 yards on kickoffs. Sophomore Keith Marcus racked up 143 return yards on four returns, including an 85-yard best. Freshman Malik Goss-Pruitt added four returns netting 136 yards.
In just his second collegiate game, CSM freshman quarterback Dru Brown proved the beneficiary, capitalizing on the consistently short field by producing five touchdowns.

“I feel like I’m adjusting to [the college game], but it makes it easier having a lot of guys around me protecting me,” said Brown, the 2014 Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza Division Senior of the Year out of Los Gatos. “It’s difficult adjusting to the speed, but I think we’re making progress.”

Brown was a modest 6-of-8 passing for 105 yards, but connected for three touchdown throws with three different receivers. He also rushed for just 26 yards on 15 carries and galloped for two more scores.

Modesto quarterback Trey Cooper had a more conventional big day, totaling 330 yards. The sophomore was 17-of-30 passing for 220 yards; he also ran for 110 yards on 21 carries with four rushing touchdowns.

“He’s a fullback that can throw,” Pollack said.

In a back-and-forth first half that saw the lead change six times, Cooper had the Pirates sitting pretty 40 seconds before halftime when he bulled into the end zone for a 2-yard score to give his team a 26-21 lead. But CSM capitalized on a 44-yard kickoff return by Goss-Pruit to start a quick-strike scoring drive from Modesto territory.

It helped Modesto committed three penalties on consecutive plays to advance CSM 35 yards. It was a recurring theme for the Pirates, who were flagged 20 times for 187 yards throughout. This gave CSM a golden chance to reclaim the lead to end the first half, as the Bulldogs had first down at the Modesto 11-yard line with 14 seconds remaining.

Brown initially dropped back to pass but couldn’t find any open targets. So the freshman improvised a run through the middle to score virtually untouched with a slick high-step across the goal line. The score gave the lead back to the Bulldogs 28-26.

CSM would not trail again. A pair of touchdown strikes by Brown after the half helped make certain of that. The first will no doubt make the Bulldogs’ end-of-season highlight reel thanks to an acrobatic one-handed grab by slot receiver Ramiah Marshall.

Marshall paced CSM with 73 rushing yards on 11 carries, but his lone reception came on a fade into the southwest corner of the end zone. Brown’s pass led the 5-6 Marshall almost too far as he got behind the Modesto secondary. So, while in a dead sprint, he left his feet and made an airborne one-handed catch for the score.

“That one shocked me.” Pollack said. “He’s 5-foot-6 and he went up and snagged it. At 5-6 you don’t have 6-7 hands … so he made a hell of a play.”

On its following drive, Modesto again closed the score to within 2 points, quickly marching 83 yards on seven plays. Cooper opened the drive with a 51-yard pass to his favorite target David Martinez, who had five catches for 120 yards. Then, later, facing fourth-and-inches from the CSM 2-yard line, Cooper bounced off an initial hit by Marcus at cornerback to find the end zone, cutting CSM’s lead to 35-33.

“[Cooper] had this fire and desire to make plays for his team,” Marcus said. “So, we had to come out, put our shoulder pads down and make plays.”

CSM went on to score on two consecutive drives, with a key three-and-out defensive stand sandwiched in between. The Bulldogs went up 42-33 midway through the third quarter on a 12-yard bootleg score by Brown. Then after the defensive shutdown — highlighted by a third-down stop on a quick hit by freshman linebacker Perry Cheney after a completed screen pass — Brown produced another touchdown strike.

This time Brown found freshman receiver Chik Nzerem in the southwest corner of the end zone. Modesto’s man-to-man coverage was so tight, cornerback Lesean Collins got flagged for pass interference. But Nzerem still leapt up and over the defender to nab his first collegiate touchdown. He also paced the Bulldogs with 63 receiving yards on three catches.

“[Brown’s] accuracy is ridiculous,” Nzerem said. “He’s one of the best quarterbacks I have ever played with, and I’ve played with some good ones. He’s definitely the leader of this team.”
Modesto managed to make it a one-possession game at the start of the fourth quarter. The Pirates got prime field position after recovering a fumble at the CSM 24-yard line. Then Cooper singlehandedly produced eight points, capping a flurry of keeper plays with a 1-yard scoring run. Cooper then fired a two-point conversion pass to cut CSM’s lead to 49-41.

But the Bulldogs managed the clock wisely with 14:15 remaining, running five minutes off of it before punter Wes Nail pinned Modesto to its own 1-yard line. Two plays later, the Pirates were flagged for a holding penalty in the end zone for a safety, putting game out of reach 51-41.

“That’s a good football team we just beat,” Nzerem said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy one.”