Some people like to kick returning habits. Tayvian Cunningham is making a habit of returning kicks.
The freshman from Will C. Wood High School in Vacaville returned a kickoff for a touchdown for the third straight week to help the City College football team to its first 3-0 start to a season in years.
At San Joaquin Delta, Cunningham returned an 89-yarder in Week 1. In Week 2, he went for a 95-yard score, and this week he raised the bar once again for a 96-yard score early in the fourth quarter. The play broke the game open for the Panthers and led to a 34-13 victory Sept. 16 over visiting Modesto Junior College.
“I don’t know why they keep kicking to No. 2,” said football coach Dannie Walker about Cunningham.
“It’s his efforts,” Walker said. “It’s the guys in front of his efforts that provide the blocking for him and the opportunity. Those guys understand that every time they step on the field, it could be six points. They’re really buying into that concept of six or none. That whole kickoff return team is phenomenal. Look for more of it in the future.”
The 5-foot-11, 186-pound, all-purpose player knows he’s not alone and credits his special-teams running mates.
“I’ve got to give it up to the blocking. It’s not just me,” said Cunningham. “Yeah, I’ve got speed, but the blocking definitely comes in handy. I’ve got to give it to them. They’re the reason that I can score.”
Cunningham’s return gave City added insurance at a time when Modesto seemed to be gaining steam. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Pirate running back Devan Bass somersaulted over the Panthers’ linemen for a 4-yard score, putting Modesto within striking distance at 20-13, with nearly an entire quarter to play.
After Cunningham’s score, TJ Tiatia recovered a fumble for the Panthers on the next Modesto series. The 6-foot, 322-pound defensive tackle thundered 19 yards down the sideline before being brought down by a host of Pirates.
Tiatia’s recovery set the Panthers up for a 5-yard touchdown from Jayden Machado to tight end Roy Sanders, to cap the scoring at 34-13.
Although Walker feels his team is not where it ultimately should be, it’s moving in a positive direction.
“They were practicing with a purpose,” said Walker. “They met the task. They took on the challenges that were in front of them. I try to tell them that the game is won Monday through Friday, not on Saturday night. That product you see is a Monday-through-Friday product.”
The Pirates came out of the locker room a rowdy bunch, but the Panthers struck first on the opening drive. Machado led an 88-yard march downfield and capped the drive with a 16-yard strike to Jordan Moore with four minutes gone by. Machado would find Moore again in the third quarter from 35 yards to extend City’s lead to 20-7.
Isaiah Montanez zigged and zagged through Pirate defenders on his way to a 25-yard touchdown, his third score in as many games, giving City a 13-7 lead before halftime.
The Panthers came up with three interceptions on the night from Christian McFarland, Jalen Smith and Rodney Spidell, who had the help of a tipped pass by Adam Mier.
Prior to this year’s bout with MJC, the Panthers had won two of their previous seven meetings with the Pirates dating back to 2008. The most recent win came in 2014, a 34-27 victory at Modesto.
City College is ranked No. 12 in the JC Athletic Bureau Coaches Poll entering Week 3 and could rise at the beginning of Week 4. The Panthers travel to Santa Rosa Junior College on Sept. 22.
For more stats and info on SCC football, visit sccpanthers.losrios.edu/sports/fball.