By Nick Giannandrea
The degree of difficulty for College of the Sequoias' football team takes a significant step up this weekend.
After playing teams that are a combined 2-14 through the season's first four weeks, the Giants (3-1) are set to face undefeated Shasta on Saturday in their non-conference finale. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. from Memorial Stadium in Redding.
The Knights (4-0) are state No. 15-ranked in the JC Athletic Bureau Coaches Poll and No. 11 by the California Community College Sports Information Association.
COS is ranked Nos. 21 and 23 in the same polls.
"Shasta is an old-school football team," second-year Giants coach Joe D'Agostino said. "They are big and physical on both sides of the ball. And their special teams have been really good thus far this season. That's something we'll have to make sure we're tightened up on and ready to go."
COS climbed four spots in the JCAB poll and entered the CCCSIA poll for the first time this week after a dramatic 23-20 overtime victory over Santa Rosa on Sept. 28.
The Giants trailed 17-3 entering the fourth quarter before rallying on a 9-yard touchdown run by Davonte Green (Hammond, La.) and a 9-yard touchdown pass from Gus Villareal (Dinuba) to Sergio Pena (Selma) with 30 seconds left in regulation.
COS pulled out the win in overtime after holding Santa Rosa to a field goal on its first possession, and responding with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Villareal to Bryson Allen (Tulare Union).
"I was really proud of our kids for sticking together and playing until the final whistle," D'Agostino said. "That was a really good experience for our kids to battle through that game. I felt good about their effort."
Shasta is coming off a 22-6 defeat of Sacramento State on Sept. 28. The Knights also have wins over two common opponents as COS: 26-3 over Chabot on Sept. 7 and 24-17 over Santa Rosa on Sept. 21. The Giants lost to Chabot 38-6 on Sept. 14.
COS had its best defensive performance of the season against Santa Rosa, limiting the Bear Cubs to 143 yards and no offensive touchdowns. The Giants hadn't held an opponents' offense out of the end zone in a game since Sept. 26, 2015.
Judah Ruckman (Springville) led the way with nine tackles, Mitch Maggini (Riverdale) added six tackles and one of the Giants' two sacks, Undra Coverson (Macon, Ga.) contributed four tackles, a sack and a forced fumble, while Noah Wright (Lemoore) had three tackles, including 1.5 of COS' eight tackles-for-losses.
"It was a good group last year and they have continued to grow and evolve," D'Agostino said of the Giants' defense. "And we might have one of the best defensive lines in junior college right now. They are fun to watch work. They really picked us up when we were down (against Santa Rosa.)"
COS will need another big defensive performance while its offense works to find its groove. The Giants were limited to 189 yards last week, with 58 of those yards coming on their final two possessions.
"I think we were trying to do too much," D'Agostino said. "This week we're trying to simplify things and get back to the roots of this offense."
D'Agostino said COS remains a work in progress as it seeks to qualify for its first bowl game since 2005.
"I feel good about the progress we're making and their resiliency through some tight games to come out on top," D'Agostino said. "But I don't think we're playing at a high level all the way across the board. We do it in spurts. We show we can play well at times. For me, we just need to be more consistent."
COS will be idle on Oct. 12 before opening Valley Conference play on Oct. 19 at unanimous state No. 3-ranked Modesto (4-0).
The Giants' next home game is set for 7 p.m. Oct. 26 against San Joaquin Delta (2-2). It will be COS' homecoming.