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

It is only appropriate that the College of San Mateo football staff grades out both the players and plays when they go through film session after a game.

After all, coaches, especially at the college of level, are teachers. Coaching is teaching, so head coach Tim Tulloch and the Bulldogs are in a constant state of evaluation and coaching.

Tulloch said his team “graded out well” following the Bulldogs’ 41-19 win over No. 4 Modesto in the semifinals of the 3C2A Northern California playoff tournament last Saturday.

And like all coaches, Tulloch pointed out it was not all positive.

“There is also a lot to work on. That’s the fun part as a coach. If we had it all figured out, I would come hang out [in the press box],” Tulloch said. “Teaching the finer points (of the game) and seeing the improvement week to week is one of the most fun and satisfying parts of the job.”

Now a week later, the top-seeded Bulldogs are facing their next test as they host No. 2 American River for the Northern California championship game at 12:05 p.m. Saturday at CSM’s College Heights Stadium.

The winner will take on the winner of Ventura-Riverside in the 3C2A state title game Dec. 9.

This is also a rematch of the 2022 Northern California title game, one that was played in a thick blanket of fog and rainy conditions. When the fog lifted, CSM was left standing with a 30-5 win as the Bulldogs went on to beat Riverside 55-0 to win the 2022 state championship.

Like Modesto last week, the Bulldogs and Beavers game is a rematch as the teams faced off in Week 4, a game that saw CSM escape with a 24-23 win when American River’s late 2-point conversion failed.

In that Sept. 23 meeting, CSM (10-1) seemed to have the game in hand, leading 17-3 going into the fourth quarter and 24-10 with 3:18 to play. But American River (10-1) responded with a pair of touchdowns in the final three minutes. The Beavers scored with 2:20 to play to cut the deficit to 24-17 and then scored again with 20 seconds left in regulation.

But the CSM defense came up with the stop on a 2-point conversion try.

Bulldogs quarterback Anthony Grigsby passed for 288 yards on the day, throwing touchdown passes to Fidel Pitts and Anthony Freeman. It helped offset a below-average ground attack that was limited to 90 yards on 32 carries.

CSM’s ground attack hasn’t been as prolific as it’s been in the past. In last week’s win over Modesto, the Bulldogs finished with 143 yards on 39 carries. But 61 of those yards came in the fourth quarter as CSM was trying to run out the clock.

But one of those rushing yards was a 1-yard run from Grigsby, to cap an afternoon that saw him account for five touchdowns on the day, completing 26-of-36 passes for 337 yards and four scores.

Tulloch knows, however, he can’t rely solely on the arm of Grigsby and his cadre of receivers. He knows the team has to execute in the run game better.

“For us to be successful in championship-level games, you can’t be one dimensional (offensively),” Tulloch said. “You have to be able to run and throw it. If you can do both at a high level … it gives you a great chance (to win).

“There are things we do at a high level and there are things we are doing at a solid level.”

Despite having already played American River once this season, Tulloch said it doesn’t really give either team much insight into how a team has evolved over the season.

Tulloch knows the Beavers will be better than that meeting in September, but it’s not like the Beavers have completely revamped what they do.

“In (our) building, we’re a one-day, one-week-at-time program. Once we played them, we haven’t looked at them much until you get into playoff mode,” Tulloch said. “The identity of [our] team has probably evolved and so have they. You take a fresh look at them, but the majority of the personnel is the same.”

Not surprisingly, when Tulloch describes what the Beavers do, it sounds a lot like him describing the Bulldogs. The Beavers captured the Big 8 Conference title, using a balanced offensive attack. The Beavers average 207 yards passing and 192 yards rushing per game this season. They scored an average of nearly 43 points per game.

“They’re balanced (offensively). The quarterback is a good decision maker. They have some dynamic playmakers. … They have some weapons. They can run it, they can throw it,” Tulloch said. “(But) when you get into championship games, it’s more about us and our ability to execute. Our ability to protect the football. When you have two good teams, it’s usually the team that makes the least mistakes (turns out the winner).”