The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
The stars are aligned for San Mateo.
The only two football teams in San Mateo County still playing will both conclude their seasons Saturday in a pair of state championship games.
The College of San Mateo Bulldogs will play for the California Community College Athletic Association state championship Saturday at Wheelock Stadium on the campus of Riverside Community College with a 1:05 p.m. kickoff. Later Saturday evening, the Serra Padres are scheduled to kick off at 8 p.m. in the CIF Open Division State Championship Bowl against Mater Dei at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo.
“We’ll see if we can make it a San Mateo takeover,” CSM head coach Tim Tulloch said.
Defending state champion CSM returns to the big dance for the second straight year, and the fourth time in the last six postseasons. The Bulldogs claimed their first-ever state title last year with a 55-0 landslide victory against these same Riverside Tigers.
“We’re looking forward to playing them,” Tulloch said. “I know their guys will be fired up. I’m sure they’ve been thinking about it the last 12 months. For us, it’s a new team … and this team has the hunger, drive and focus to go try to win another one.”
Riverside is playing in its fourth straight state championship game and has one CCCAA title to its credit. The Tigers earned that title in 2019 with a 31-14 win over CSM. They went on to fall in the 2021 state championship game 22-19 to City College of San Francisco, before last year’s loss to CSM. There was no CCCAA football in 2020 due to the pandemic.
CSM is returning to the state championship with a vastly different team than last year. The short list of Bulldogs who will be starting in their second straight title game includes defensive backs Malini Ti’a and Ja’ir Smith, and wide receivers Jeremiah Patterson and Fidel Pitts.
Redshirt freshman Anthony Grigsby is slated to be CSM’s third starting quarterback in the team’s last three CCCAA championship games. Last year, Richie Watts started under center. Watts went out on top, transferring to University of Buffalo after CSM won the 2022 state crown. Luke Bottari was the starting quarterback for the Bulldogs in 2019.
“This is the nature of junior college football,” Tulloch said. “Year to year it’s very different. … And I’m excited to see this group get their shot at it.”
Grigsby ranks second in the state in touchdown throws with 33, second all-time in program history for a single season. He is not entirely out of reach of the program record, though it will take quite a day for him to catch Sal Genilla’s record of 38 from the 1985 season.
Also capable of putting up big touchdown numbers is Riverside quarterback Jordan Barton. The sophomore is the only QB in the state with more touchdown passes than Grigsby, leading the CCCAA with 35. He also leads the state with 3,789 passing yards.
Barton has thrown for 820 cumulative yards over the two playoff games.
The Tigers (11-1) fought their way into the playoffs as a wild card. They settled for second place in the Southern Conference, falling 17-16 to Fullerton in a battle for the conference championship on the final day of the regular season. The Riverside offense has gone on to take out any frustrations from the loss on its two postseason opponents, winning the So Cal regional semifinal playoff opener with a 51-48 barnburner against Mt. San Antonio. Last week, the Tigers took down Ventura in the So Cal finals with a 45-26 victory.
“They’ve won the South four years in a row, so it’s not a surprise that they did it again,” Tulloch said.
CSM (11-1) paved a similar path to the postseason, dueling for the conference title on the final day of the regular season. The difference is, the Bulldogs won their Bay 6 Conference with a 44-17 victory over CCSF. They went on to win the Nor Cal regional semifinal 41-19 against Modesto, then won a thriller against American River in the Nor Cal finals with a 30-27 win, holding off a late Beavers surge that ended when CSM defensive back Amari Roberson intercepted a pass in the end zone in the final minute of the game.
“I think when you look at the Nor Cal game … that was a 12-round, heavyweight fight,” Tulloch said. “We had a similar game with Modesto. … It was a fight the week before with San Francisco. So, I think it battle tests you. When you’re in close games, tight games, extremely physical games, I think it prepares you for a state championship game.”
CSM will depart Friday morning via team bus from its home campus. Thursday, the Bulldogs held their final practice on their home field at College Heights Stadium. They are scheduled to practice Friday afternoon at Riverside.
With Serra playing for the CIF Open Division championship Saturday night at Saddleback College — located 50 miles southwest of Riverside Community College — and nine Serra graduates on the CSM roster, many of the Bulldogs are planning to attend the Serra game and will not make the return trip to San Mateo on the team bus.
“It’s more time for us to be together,” Tulloch said of the 425-mile drive from San Mateo to Riverside. “Whether we’re breaking bread … or prepping for the state championship game, it’s truly a family and we just get more time with our guys before we head on out … and go our separate ways.”
The CCCAA state championship game is available for viewing via pay-per-view at Hudl.com. The price for the single-game view is $12.66. The Hudl link can be accessed at BAOSN.tv, or directly on the HUDL website.