By Nick Giannandrea
It's been a long time coming since there has been any significance to November football games for College of the Sequoias.
The Giants haven't been eligible to play in a bowl in six seasons.
Their last bowl appearance came nine years ago.
And COS hasn't won a conference title in 21 seasons.
But on Nov. 9, the Giants (5-3, 2-1) can all but lock up a bowl berth and put themselves in position to win at least a share of the Valley Conference championship with a victory against Fresno City (6-2, 3-0). Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. from Fresno's Ratcliffe Stadium.
"I've been here seven years and we haven't had a meaningful game in November," said Joe D'Agostino, in his second season as COS' head coach after five years as an assistant. "To have a meaningful game in November is a step in the right direction."
If the Giants win, it would forge at least a two-way, and possibly a three-way tie for first place in the Valley Conference between COS, Fresno City and Modesto (6-2, 2-1).
The Giants would need to win out - their final regular season game is at 5 p.m. Nov. 16 against Sacramento City at Mineral king Bowl - to win at least a share of their first conference title since 1998, when they went 5-0. Only twice since has COS won more than two conference games in a season.
"If we win, we create chaos," D'Agostino said. "It's going to be fun. I'm excited for the kids. All you want is a chance. and we have a chance."
COS, which went 2-8 in each of the past two seasons, has enjoyed a turnaround year thanks to the dedication of its sophomore class.
Players such as quarterback Gus Villareal (Dinuba), running back Davonte Green (Hammond, La.), linebackers Mitch Maggini (Riverdale) and Judah Ruckman (Springville) and defensive backs Bobby Peele (Edison), Isreal Garcia (Dinuba) and Jupri Hughes (Hanford) haven't missed a team function since May.
"They are a really good core group of guys who lead by example," D'Agostino said. "They've delivered the leadership we've needed. I'm really proud of these kids."
COS is bracing for a Fresno City team that enters ranked No. 9 in the state by the JC Athletic Bureau and No. 6 by the California Community College Sports Information Association following a 26-24 victory Nov. 2 against previously No. 4/3-ranked Modesto. The Giants lost to Modesto 44-21 on Oct. 19.
The Rams have won three straight behind a Rico Rosario-led rushing attack that's averaging 172.3 yards per game. Rosario has rushed for 606 yards on 102 carries, an average of 5.9 yards per attempt.
"We feel like we have a championship defense, but we'll find out on Saturday," D'Agostino said. "We have to stop their run. That's what they do best. If they are able to run the ball and control the clock, they will win the game. We know we'll have our hands full, but we have a chance."
The Rams also feature a formidable defense - led by linebacker Cam Lamanuzzi - that's giving up 13.4 points per game.
"It's going to be a good, old school game," D'Agostino said. "It's two good defensive teams. Whoever puts some points on the board and eliminates mistakes will win. Field position and special teams will be key."
While COS has struggled over most of the past 20 seasons, the Rams have become the standard bearer in the Valley Conference, having won 10 titles since 1999. Fresno City has played in a bowl in 19 of the past 20 seasons.
"Fresno is a really good team," D'Agostino said. "They are the measuring stick of where we want to get to."
The Giants, who are ranked No. 10 in Northern California's National Division, are highly likely to be selected for a bowl game on Nov. 23 if they win at least one of their two remaining games, according to D'Agostino.
"We have our destiny in our hands," D'Agostino said. "We're playing against the big, bad wolf. So we'll see what we've got. We're going to do everything we can. The staff has put in the time and the kids have put in the time to put our best foot forward. We'll let it all hang out on Saturday."