MERCED — There was no way Travante Richard was letting go of the football.
The Merced receiver leaped up and snagged a 10-yard touchdown pass and wrestled it away from Downey's Joe Kreifels with just over 3 minutes left in the game as the Bears came from behind to win a wild 45-41 game on a night Merced hosted its first varsity game on campus in school history.
"All I was thinking was get the ball at the highest point," Richard said. "There's no way I was going to drop it. We needed that catch to win."
The first home game went on without a hitch. Merced went around the area collecting bleachers from Golden Valley and Buhach Colony to provide seating for about 2,500 people.
It was a great atmosphere with much of the home bleachers filled before the opening kickoff with a long line of fans outside the gate waiting to get in.
They weren't disappointed.
"Crazy," said Merced head coach Rob Scheidt, whose team improved to 2-0. "It was pretty electric. It's pretty neat out here. If we could ever get something built out here it could be a lot of fun."
The two quarterbacks didn't disappoint.
Downey's Hawaii-bound senior Aaron Zwahlen put on a show, completing 24-of-45 passes for 232 yards and five touchdowns. However, the Bears intercepted him four times, including a pick by David Keys at the Merced 10-yard line that sealed the win with 1:24 left in the game.
"You can't have all those turnovers in a big game like that," said Downey head coach Jeremy Plaa, whose team dropped to 1-1. "You'd like to have at least one of those back. We gave them lots of chances."
Merced's Eli Gutierrez stole the show, throwing five touchdowns himself to go along with only one interception. He completed 15 of 29 passes for 239 yards, including three fourth-quarter touchdown strikes to lead the Bears back from a 34-25 deficit.
Gutierrez was knocked out of the game early in the third quarter with a bloody nose.
"No explanation for (Gutierrez)," Scheidt said. "What a game. I thought he broke his nose. I've never seen a nose bleed that much."
The Bears had plenty of heroes with Errol Dennis (171 rushing yards) and Brendan Yaley (109 rushing yards) both going over the century mark.
Keith Bolden finished with three catches for 68 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown. Bolden also had an interception on defense.
Bradley Adamson hauled in six catches for 113 yards, including three touchdown grabs. He pulled in a 57-yard touchdown that gave the Bears a brief 37-34 lead with 6:30 left in the game.
Zwahlen answered back with a quick 70-yard drive, finding Michael Falepouono for a 29-yard touchdown that put the Knights in front 41-37.
That set the stage for Richard and his clutch catch.
"It was intense," Adamson said. "That was a scary one. I'm glad we stuck together and pulled this one out."