TURLOCK — Bradley Adamson danced near the south end zone, singing the Merced Bears' praises.
And there were many.
"We accomplished all our goals tonight," Adamson screamed, waving his helmet like a pom-pom.
Teammate Keith Bolden stood wide-eyed near assistant coach Tom Scheidt as he described an out-of-body moment.
"I felt like the fastest dude on the field," Bolden said from the shadows of the Joe Debely Stadium scoreboard, its bright lights punctuating his every word.
It read: Merced 44, Pitman 13.
Yes, Merced was all that and then some on Friday evening, putting on a performance that harkened back to its run of Central California Conference championships from 2006-09.
And guess what? Those dormant Bears are one step closer to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
Eli Gutierrez tossed two touchdown passes and highlighted a flurry of fourth quarter points with a 43-yard scoring run, and Merced's much-maligned defense atoned for last week's turnstile effort against Buhach Colony by stymieing Pitman's Wing-T.
Errol Dennis rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown, and picked off Wyatt Clapper in the third quarter.
Travante Richards and Adamson (four catches, 83 yards) had touchdown receptions, and bulldozing middle linebacker Sam Scheidt fell onto a fumble in the end zone.
"We've really had three good weeks of preparation for his," Merced coach Rob Scheidt said. "This week, I was surprised at how well they responded. "When you deal with teenagers, you get really excited to see them respond like that after a tough loss."
Pitman (6-2, 1-2 CCC) didn't see what was coming. The Pride struggled offensively as Merced Merced forced two turnovers, sacked Clapper three times and didn't allow a Pitman rusher more than 57 yards.
By the third quarter, Pitman's run-heavy offense was suddenly thrust into Clapper's hands. He did well to connect with Brent Nelle (53 rushing yards, 79 receiving yards, two TDs) on a 70-yard touchdown pass in the third, but the Pride weren't going to beat Merced through the air.
The Bears (5-3, 2-1) are a win shy of snapping a three-year playoff drought.Merced travels to Atwater for the Santa Fe Bowl next week, and then closes the regular season at Golden Valley.
After three consecutive 4-6 seasons, the Bears are hungry for that sixth win.
"With this group of guys, it would be disappointing if we didn't get back to the playoffs," Scheidt said.
Gutierrez turned in another sparkling line: 14 carries, 100 yards; 10-of-19 passing for 181 yards; three total TDs.
"This was huge," Scheidt said, "for a lot of reasons."