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

CSM receiver Fidel Pitts barrels into the end zone in the Bulldogs’ rout of Modesto in the CCCAA football playoff opener Saturday at College Heights Stadium. Photo by Patrick Nguyen.

CSM receiver Fidel Pitts barrels into the end zone in the Bulldogs’ rout of Modesto in the CCCAA football playoff opener Saturday at College Heights Stadium. Photo by Patrick Nguyen.

It is a new season, with a new team, against a familiar opponent, and the result was the same.

The College of San Mateo football team opened defense of its 2022 state and national championship by taking on a familiar foe at College Heights Stadium Saturday, hosting fourth-seeded Modesto in the semifinals of the CCCAA Northern California regional tournament.

The top-seeded Bulldogs were hosting the Pirates in the playoffs for the second year in a row. Last year, the Bulldogs cruised to a 30-0 win.

Saturday, it was more of the same. After Modesto closed to 14-7 with 5:30 left in the first half, CSM scored 10 more points, to lead 24-7 at halftime, on its way to a 41-19 win to move into Saturday’s Nor Cal championship game.

“It’s good to advance (in the playoffs),” CSM head coach Tim Tulloch said. “We just continue to focus on us.”

CSM (10-1) set the tone on its first drive of the game, one that took nine minutes and 14 seconds off the clock as the Bulldogs marched 94 yards on 15 plays — which doesn’t take into account four penalties on the drive.

But the key to the win came after Modesto (7-4) scored its first touchdown of the game after being stymied on its first three drives of the game. When Pirate running back Kimoni Stanley scored from 2 yards out to cut the Pirates deficit to 14-7, CSM responded with a field goal and touchdown over the final 5:30 of the first half.

First, CSM kicker Caleb Ojeda ended the Bulldogs’ next drive with a 23-yard field goal with 2:33 left in the second quarter for a 17-7 CSM lead. Modesto proceeded to go three-and-out on its ensuing possession, throwing a pair of incompletions to run just 30 seconds off the clock before punting.

Anthony Freeman took the ensuing punt near his own sideline at the 32-yard line. By the time he was taken down, he was in front of the Modesto sideline 37 yards later, giving the Bulldogs a first down at the Pirates’ 31 with 1:43 left in the half.

CSM quarterback Anthony Grigsby then completed three passes in a row — gains of 17 and 8 yards to Fidel Pitts — before finding Jeremiah Patterson for a 6-yard score to put the Bulldogs up 24-7 with just over a minute left in the first half.

It was one of five touchdowns on the day for Grigsby — four passing and one running. The redshirt freshman, who started Game 1 of the 2022 season before being lost to injury, completed his first nine passes in a row as he went on to finish 26-for-36 for 337 yards, before sitting out the final two drives of the game.

“[Grigsby] was outstanding,” Tulloch said.

Grigsby certainly didn’t do it all by himself. Eleven Bulldogs recorded a catch, led by Pitts, who had four catches for 61 yards and a score. Freeman caught five balls for 51 yards and a touchdown, while Terence Loville grabbed four balls for 47 yard and a score.

While Grigsby made a number of on-the-mark throws, he also had several off-script completions, where he simply trusted his receivers to make a play.

On the scoring drive to answer Modesto’s first score, Grigsby scrambled to his right and found Patterson on the right sideline, who made the grab and then did a toe-tap along the sideline for a 24-yard gain.

In the fourth quarter, inside the Modesto 10-yard line, Grigsby took the snap and with pressure in his face, floated a back-footed pass to the middle of the end zone, where 6-5, 240-tight end Corey Le’aupepe, a freshman from New Zealand, out-jumped the defensive back to pull down the 7-yard touchdown that put the Bulldogs up 34-13.

On CSM’s final scoring drive, Grigsby, again, was forced into a pass off his back foot, throwing a fourth-down pass down the right sideline.

The ball was underthrown, but receiver KB Boone-Nelson adjusted his route, coming back for the ball. He made the catch, beat the defender and when he was finally taken down at the 1-yard line, it was a 48-yard gain.

Grigsby then did the rest, running the ball in from a yard out around the left side to put the Bulldogs up 41-13 with 7:32 to play.

“He trusts those guys so much,” Tulloch said of the connection Grigsby has with his receivers. “That touchdown to [Le’aupepe], he knew exactly where to put the ball.”

CSM needed Grisgby on point because the Bulldogs’ ground game was pretty much stuffed for most of the game. The Bulldogs eventually finished with 143 rushing yards, with Matthew White the leader with 47 yards on eight carries.

The Bulldogs, however, did just enough on the ground to keep the Modesto defense honest.

“We try to put (an offensive game) plan together that’s flexible,” Tulloch said. “We have dynamic guys … and you have to be able to run it and throw it.”

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Bulldogs, however. They lost starting linebacker Alo Mata’u to a highly questionable targeting call on the second play of the second quarter that led to his ejection, as he rode Modesto’s Stanley out of bounds following a 12-yard gain.

Tulloch was incensed, eventually drawing a sideline warning and riding the officials for a while, even as the teams came out of the locker room after halftime.

The ejection threatens Mata’u’s availability for Saturday’s Nor Cal title game.

“We’re going to appeal it,” Tulloch said. “Completely disagree with how it was officiated.”Sophomore Roan Poulivaati stepped into the breach, with Tulloch saying, “He did a great job. He’s a vet. We leaned on him the rest of the game.”

Up next for CSM is another rematch in the Nor Cal championship game when the Bulldogs host No. 2 American River. The Beavers punched their ticket to the title game by blowing out No. 3 City College of San Francisco, 41-6.

CSM beat American River 30-5 in the Nor Cal championship game last season. The faced off again in Week 4 of this season, with CSM surviving a 2-point try on the final play of the game to hold on for a 24-23 victory.

“It’s going to be a great game,” Tulloch said.