It wasn't supposed to be this way.
Led by a talented sophomore class, the Merced College football team appeared to have the pieces in place to return to NorCal relevance.
The Blue Devils (0-2 Golden Gate Conference, 2-6) had hopes of producing the first winning season since 1997 and playing in a bowl game. Now they'll have to win out just to match last season's win total.
With nothing but a spoiler role left to play in the GGC title hunt, MC head coach Bob Casey hopes pride will see the Blue Devils through their final two games.
"I don't think the guys have taken how things have gone well at all," MC head coach Bob Casey said. "Our expectations were much higher coming into the season and there's disappointment we haven't met them.
"Guys know we've missed some opportunities to turn a corner with this program. But you can't hang your heads and feel sorry for yourselves.
"You can either sit there and take your lumps or you can hand them back out."
Casey said guys still have plenty to play for. Sophomores have two games to add some quality film for prospective four-year schools, while injuries and underachievement have opened the door for new faces to get a head start on next season.
Redshirt freshman Rudy Monteon is one such player. He'll get his second straight start at quarterback.
Monteon helped jump start a struggling MC offense by passing for 306 yards, rushing for 60 more and accounting for five total touchdowns in a loss to Reedley last week.
He wasn't the only one to seize the opportunity.
Receiver Iman Kelly helped fill in for the injured Jarrell Davis, catching seven balls for 67 yards and a touchdown. Tyree Jones stepped in for an injured Dallon Muse, carrying 19 times for a season-high 88 yards.
Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, it was the defense's turn to struggle.
The Reedley offense torched Merced College for 572 total yards and scored on six of its seven possessions in the second half.
"It was a combination of things," Casey said. "They probably played as good as I've seen them play, and we didn't tackle well.
"Once they started clicking, it can be tough to slow a team like that down."
The Blue Devils will attempt to put the total package together when they host Laney College (1-1 GGC, 2-5) on Saturday afternoon.
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at Stadium '76.
The Eagles are coming off of a 37-36 overtime loss to Chabot.
"They're a typical Laney team," Casey said. "They're physical and very straight forward.
"They're just going to line up and play football and take their chances with what they do."
Sean Lynch is a Sun-Star sports writer. He can be reached at 385-2476 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.