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

CSM wide receiver Fidel Pitts hauls in a 72-yard touchdown pass in the Bulldogs’ 44-17 win over City College Saturday at College Heights Stadium. Photo by Ronald Rugel.

CSM wide receiver Fidel Pitts hauls in a 72-yard touchdown pass in the Bulldogs’ 44-17 win over City College Saturday at College Heights Stadium. Photo by Ronald Rugel.

Ezra Funa was a varsity junior at Mater Dei when the Monarchs beat Serra for the 2021 CIF State Football Open Division championship. It was just such a championship pedigree that drew him to College of San Mateo.

As the reigning state champion itself, and a longtime power in the California Community College Athletic Association, CSM is no stranger to landing top-notch recruits. But even for the Bulldogs, drawing from nationally-ranked Mater Dei is a far stretch. Even CSM head coach Tim Tulloch said it’s been a minute since any player from the Santa Ana private school powerhouse played on the Hilltop.

“Coming from a program like Mater Dei, you want to play with the best, most definitely,” Funa said. “Hearing about CSM, and how they won that championship last year, I want to be with that team.”

Now, much in part to Funa’s stout performance at defensive end, the Bulldogs (5-0 Bay 6, 9-1 overall) will get another chance to make a run at a state title. CSM claimed a 44-17 victory over City College of San Francisco in a must-win regular-season finale Saturday at Bulldog Stadium. With the win, CSM claimed the Bay 6 Conference championship for the second straight year.

Entering into play tied with CCSF (4-1, 9-1) for first place in the Bay 6, the Bulldogs would not have been guaranteed a playoff berth had they lost.

While things started about as badly as could be for CSM, the Bulldogs responded to an early 10- deficit with a fast, physical and furious level of play that at times resembled a free-for-all wrestling battle royal more than a football game. The manner of play from both teams ranged from aggressive to sometimes downright violent.

“This is a playoff game, essentially,” Tulloch said. “This is Week 10. We needed to win to get in, and I talked to the guys about it. You don’t win championships, you earn ’em. You’ve got to earn ’em playing our brand of ball, which is physical Bulldog football. And, so, on all phases, week in and week out, we want to play physical, physical football. So, that’s just really a philosophy and a brand for us.”

CSM defensive end Ezra Funa comes down with an interception in the fourth quarter of the Bulldogs’ 44-17 win over City College Saturday at College Heights Stadium. Photo by Ronald Rugel.

CSM defensive end Ezra Funa comes down with an interception in the fourth quarter of the Bulldogs’ 44-17 win over City College Saturday at College Heights Stadium. Photo by Ronald Rugel.

Funa helped enforce that brand on CCSF’s second possession, when a modified short-yardage Bulldog defense ran onto the field after a blocked punt gave the Rams the ball at CSM’s 8-yard line. The defense held, limiting CCSF to a 27-yard field goal off the foot of sophomore Joseph Oliveira.

“Everybody knows it’s a good feeling to get a stop, especially on defense to return to the sideline and get our team rolling,” Funa said. “That’s one of the basics of our team.”

The opening eight minutes was nothing but ugly for the Bulldogs.

The kibosh started on the opening play, when Rams quarterback Dorian Hale threw one off the mark that went through the hands of CSM linebacker Finn Williams. The CSM defense held to force a three-and-out, but the Bulldogs’ first possession was a landslide of mistakes, including a fumble on second down recovered by CSM for a 12-yard loss, a sack by Zone Wierenga and K’aun Green on third down, and the blocked punt put the Bulldogs up against it.

Following the field goal, a quick three-and-out by the Bulldogs set up the Rams for another score just over a minute later, with Hale breaking a 40-yard QB keeper on a clever play-action bolt to put CCSF up 10-0 with 7:05 left in the quarter.

“We knew they were going to come out with emotion in the first quarter,” Tulloch said, “and … we talked to our players ahead of time: ‘Just stay composed, stay calm.’”

Freshman quarterback Anthony Grigsby certainly heeded the message.

While CCSF reveled in the first eight minutes of the game, CSM ruled the last 52. And it didn’t take long to swing the momentum as Grigsby and the Bulldogs hit the Rams with two quick haymakers.

“It’s a four-quarter game, all we had to do is just rally together and just keep chunking and keep chunking, and eventually we’re going to pop,” Grigsby said. “And eventually it popped.”

Facing third-and-21 from their own 28, the Bulldogs got on the board when Grigsby aired one out to Fidel Pitts, who beat a defender over the middle to take a picturesque spiral in stride for a 72-yard touchdown haul. A CSM interception by Johno Price at the Bulldogs’ 39 set up another air strike, and on the next play Grigsby turned in a real-time instant replay with a 61-yard pearl on a fly route to Jeremiah Patterson for a go-ahead score, the Bulldogs’ first lead at 14-10.

CSM went on to outgain CCSF 409-305 in total yards. Most of the Bulldogs’ yards were through the air, with Grigsby going 19-of-29 passing for 322 yards and three touchdowns, with four different receivers recording multiple catches.

“We have some stars in the receiver room,” Grigsby said. “The best receivers I’ve ever thrown to in my life. I’ll trust them with the ball at any time, any moment from the starter to the last one. Everybody is in the game … for a reason. They’re dawgs.”

The Bulldogs could have had another score heading into the half, but a rare misfire by Grigsby extinguished a promising CSM drive. Taking over at their own 34, the Bulldogs moved the ball across midfield with a 23-yard pass from Grigsby to Terence Loville. But four plays later, on a route over the middle, Grigsby had KB Boone-Nelson wide open but overshot right into the hands of CCSF defensive back Janari Boone inside the 10 to stifle the drive.

CSM took a 14-10 lead into halftime.

“The main thing we talked about in the locker room is the job’s not done,” Funa said. “We still had a whole half to play, we still had stuff to get done. We had to come play with the same intensity — even better.”

The second half started a little bit like the first as Grigsby was leveled with a strip-sack from CCSF freshman Derek Reagans III to give the Rams the ball at CSM’s 21. But thanks to a CSM sack, three negative plays, and two penalties, CCSF punted on fourth-and-29 from the CSM 40.

The Bulldogs responded with another quick flurry of back-to-back scores, as Grigsby drove the field and ran for a 3-yard touchdown, then threw for another less than two minutes later. After CSM sophomore D’Von Lang returned the punt-blocking favor in the red zone to set up the Bulldogs at CCSF’s 7, Grigsby connected with Patterson for a 4-yard TD pass to make it 28-10 late in the third quarter.

The Rams scored to start the fourth on a 4-yard pass from backup quarterback Jack Miller to Hassan Mahasin to make it 28-17. But the Bulldogs put the game away with three unanswered scores — a 34-yard TD run by sophomore Nate Sanchez, a 28-yard field goal by sophomore Caleb Ojeda, and a 2-yard TD run by Grigsby.

Funa set up the final score with an impressive interception deep in CCSF territory, falling to the turf on the play before pushing up and standing right in the passing lane of the Rams’ third-string quarterback Teddy Booras.

“He’s a ball magnet,” Tulloch said. “He finds a way to make plays consistently over and over again, and I’m glad he’s on our team.”

Pitts led CSM with three catches for 99 yards, Patterson had five catches for 82 yards, and Loville totaled six catches for 80 yards. CCSF sophomore Max Rodarte led all receivers with 107 yards on five catches, while Mahasin totaled seven catches for 73 yards.

Freshman linebacker Cyrus Durham led CSM with two sacks, and Funa had 1 1/2 sacks. The Bulldogs totaled six on the day.

With the win, CSM clinches one of Nor Cal’s three automatic playoff bids. The Bulldogs are all but guaranteed to host their playoff opener, Saturday, Nov. 25. American River, the champion of the NorCal Conference, and Modesto, the champion of the Valley Conference also earn auto bids. CCSF will earn Northern California’s one at-large bid.