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

CSM sophomore Chris Zografos made his first start as a Bulldog Saturday.

CSM sophomore Chris Zografos made his first start as a Bulldog Saturday. Photo by Patrick Nguyen

With College of San Mateo having already clinched an automatic playoff berth last Saturday with its defeat of Santa Rosa Junior College, Bulldogs head coach Larry Owens turned to backup quarterback Chris Zografos to helm the team in Saturday’s regular-season finale.

Zografos answered the call, leading the Bulldogs past fifth-place Diablo Valley College 33-17 at College Heights Stadium. With the win, CSM (5-0 Bay 6, 7-3 overall) claims the outright title in the Bay 6 Conference.

A transfer sophomore out of San Mateo High School, enjoyed his best game of the season in his first-ever start with the Bulldogs. Zografos was 13-of-22 passing for 171 yards and three touchdowns, leading CSM to an early 14-0 lead from which it would never look back.

CSM outgained Diablo Valley 463-255 in total yards, but still managed to play the game close. The Bulldogs opened a three-score lead by halftime at 24-7. Diablo Valley (1-4, 5-5) rallied back with consecutive second-half scores to close to within 24-17, but the CSM defense did not allow another first down from there, and even added points when sophomore linebacker Daniel Lavulo recorded his second of two sacks to score a fourth-quarter safety.

The Bulldogs defense opened with a big third-down stop in the first quarter. With Diablo Valley facing third-and-1 from its own 33-yard line, CSM’s Hamilton To’o pushed back the Diablo rush for a 3-yard loss, forcing a punt.

On CSM’s first play of the ensuing drive, Bulldogs slot receiver Ramiah Marshall hit pay dirt for an 82-yard scoring run, giving CSM a 7-0 lead.

After a Diablo Valley three-and-out, CSM got the ball back and turned in some more third-down heroics, this time on offense. Facing third-and-2 from the Diablo Valley 39-yard line, Zografos found fullback Sione Finefeuiaki for a 39-yard scoring pass, staking the Bulldogs to a 14-0 advantage.

Diablo Valley got a touchdown back in the first quarter on a 46-yard scoring pass from Gary Chapeta to Ryan Anderson. But the Bulldogs put up 10 unanswered points in the second quarter, with Zografos connecting with Line Latu on a 24-yard touchdown pass; then kicker Carlos Silva closed the first half with a 30-yard field goal, upping the lead to 24-7.

Diablo Valley opened the second half with a seven-play, 87-yard scoring drive, capped by a 6-yard rushing score from Desmond Nisby. Then to open the fourth quarter, Diablo kicker Manny Lopez booted a 21-yard field goal to draw his team within a touchdown at 24-17.

The Bulldogs defense pitched a fourth-quarter shutout though. And after scoring the safety with just over three minutes to play, the Bulldogs drove 54 yards to score on a 10-yard pass from Zografos to Finefeuiaki to cap the day’s scoring.

Latu finished the day as the game’s receiving leader, totaling six catches for 98 yards. The Bulldogs featured a balanced run game, totaling 288 team rushing yards without seeing any one back surpass the 100-yard plateau. Sophomore running back Isaiah Williams rushed for a game-high 86 yards on 13 carries, while sophomore Joey Wood (58 yards on 11 carries) and sophomore Keenan Smith (48 yards on 13 carries) also made steady contributions.

CSM now advances to the Northern California playoffs as the No. 4 seed. The Bulldogs open at No. 1 Butte this Saturday at 1 p.m.