Defense the key for Merced football

jburns@modbee.comOctober 23, 2012 

Sam Scheidt and Mitchell Meyer arrived at the same time -- full of venom and speed -- crunching Wyatt Clapper in the backfield.

Clapp on.

Clapp off.

The Pitman quarterback released a wobbly incompletion as he was squashed by Merced's blitzing linebackers, a small bit of fortune for an offense under siege all evening.

For all the points Merced scored during Friday's 44-13 victory over Pitman, the playoff-starved Bears woke up this morning with realistic playoff hopes because of their defense.

Yes, that defense. The same bunch that was gutted by Buhach Colony for 445 rushing yards in a 42-21 loss two weeks ago.

"They ran the ball down our throats," head coach Rob Scheidt said. "Going back to that Buhach game, we didn't have a great scheme against their run attack. As coaches, we'll take the blame for that.

"At the sametime, the kids bought into our gameplan against Pitman. From Day One, from Monday to Thursday, they got into the gameplan and developed some confidence."

It showed.

Merced shackled Pitman's vaunted Wing-T, giving up 228 rushing yards to a unit that returned two 1,000-yard backs (Brent Nelle, Kody Brackett) and the Central California Conference's Offensive MVP (Nelle).

The Bears forced two turnovers, sacked Clapper three times and played their best following Pride TDs in the second and fourth quarters.

Sam Scheidt played like a coach's son -- the next in a long line of Scheidt family linebackers. He had 12 tackles, one fumble recovery and turned back a 2-point conversion attempt.

"One of the things we talked about was stopping them on third down," the younger Scheidt said. "If you stop them on third down, you can get off the field. Of course, there will be ups and downs in a game, but I feel like we did that pretty well."

Anthony Munoz had two sacks, Jamell Bedford had seven stops and a sack, Meyer posted nine tackles and cornerback Errol Dennis had an interception as Merced (5-3, 2-1 CCC) moved within one win of qualifying for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 playoffs.

"Our guys did a great job of managing their emotions after big plays. I don't think we've been the best at that throughout the year," Rob Scheidt said. "The two big plays were mental breakdowns ... but our response was, 'Hey, what do we need to do?' We were able to correct it and move forward. In past we've dwelled on those big plays. On Friday, I didn't seen any of that."

Santa Fe Bowl next

Merced's defense finds itself in the spotlight for the third consecutive week on Friday when it travels to Atwater (6-2, 2-1) for a Santa Fe Bowl dripping with playoff implications -- and likely rain, too.

Like Buhach and Pitman before it, Atwater's offense is tailor-made for the run. The Falcons are averaging nearly 300 rushing yards per game and have twice topped the 400-yard barrier: vs. Washington Union, 490; and vs. Stockton Edison, 437.

Six players have rushed for more than 200 yards in Atwater's shotgun Wing-T.

"We're very fortunate because the offense we're playing this Friday was the offense developed by Mike Parsons at Clovis West. We've played it for a few years. We have an idea of the philosophy, and we did a great job of stopping them in Week 1," Scheidt said of his team's 27-14 season-opening win.

A victory on Friday would also give Merced the inside track on the conference's No. 2 playoff seed.

"We definitely crave it," Sam Scheidt said of a playoff berth. "We were just talking about how it's been so long. The season goes by so fast, so playoffs is something that we want to do to extend our season ... to keep having fun."

A lack of talent hasn't been the culprit the last three seasons -- a stretch of 4-6 that followed three straight CCC titles. Confidence has been the missing ingredient, and on Friday in Turlock, Merced finally got its swagger back.

"There was a sense of relief from our sidelines, from our coaches that can remember those years," Scheidt said. "We've felt like we've had the talent to do what we did on Friday night, but we hadn't done it.

"It was nice to see our guys respond with the resolve that they knew they were going to win."

James Burns is the Regional Sports Content Editor of The Modesto Bee and Merced Sun-Star. He can be reached at jburns@modbee.com or (209) 578-2324.

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