MERCED — Stefon Gold has been a frequent visitor to the end zone the past two weeks.
The Buhach Colony senior followed up his three-touchdown performance last week with four touchdowns and 148 yards as the Thunder defeated Merced 42-21 on Friday night at Veterans Stadium.
It didn't take long for Gold to explain the reason for his success.
"I'm loving it," Gold said. "I've loving my offensive line. Aaron Cochran, Victor Garcia, George Lopez, David Waites and Chris Ochoa. I wouldn't be anything without them."
The win puts the Thunder (2-0 Central California Conference, 5-2 overall) in a familiar place, all alone atop the conference.
The Bears (1-1, 4-3) couldn't get the Thunder offense off the field.
Buhach Colony racked up 405 yards on the ground. Most of the damage was done in the first half with the Thunder rushing for 288 yards in the first two quarters as they scored on five of their first six possessions.
"We thought we could run the ball tonight," said Buhach Colony coach Kevin Swartwood. "I was pretty surprised we were able to run that well. Shoot, our inside and outside game was meshing pretty well."
Gold scored on touchdown runs of 9 and 2 yards and Shane Bell added a 23-yard field goal as Buhach Colony sprinted out to a 17-0 lead.
Merced struggled early as Buhach Colony's Joe Marquez made a diving interception to stop the Bears' first drive. It was one of two interceptions for Marquez in the game.
Merced then went three-and-out on its next two possessions.
The Bears finally got on the board with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Eli Gutierrez to Tanner McBurney to cut the Thunder lead to 17-7 with 5:40 left in the second quarter.
The two teams finished the first half with a flurry of points.
Gold broke free up the middle for a 46-yard touchdown run on the Thunder's next possession to give BC a 23-7 lead.
It was the first of three touchdowns in a 46-second stretch.
Errol Dennis set up a Merced score with 53-yard run. Dennis fumbled at the end of the run and teammate Bradley Adamson scooped up the ball and advanced it another 8 yards.
Adamson then scored on a 7-yard touchdown run to pull Merced within 23-14.
However, the Thunder answered right back when Jayce Webster raced down the right sideline for an 88-yard kickoff return on the ensuing kickoff to extend the Thunder lead to 29-14 with 3:06 left in the half.
Buhach Colony went for an onside kick, but McBurney fell on the ball to give the Bears possession at the 50-yard line.
Merced needed just five plays to score with Dennis (90 rushing yards) running in the end zone from 3 yards out as the Bears trailed just 29-21 at the half.
"We knew this was going to be a close game," Swartwood said. "We knew they would fight. Merced is a good team. They have pride and tradition. We talked all week about this being a four-quarter game."
The Thunder opened the second half with a 57-yard drive that took 11 plays. Gold capped the drive with his fourth touchdown of the night on a 3-yard run.
The Buhach Colony defense settled down and shut the Bears out in the second half.
Marquez added the knockout blow, scoring on an option play from 13 yards out to give the Thunder a 42-21 lead with 11:55 left in the game.
"This was really big, this was for bragging rights," Gold said. "This win felt great."