FRESNO — A 48-minute high school football game was reduced to a bizarre 17 seconds Thursday night at Buchanan's Veterans Memorial Stadium.
That's how long it took for the Central Section's third-ranked Clovis North to sandwich two Austin Autry-to-Tymon Locklin touchdown passes around a Merced fumble in the final minute of the second half to seize a lead it wouldn't lose in a 29-10 nonleague win.
The Broncos (5-0), two weeks after No. 1 Edison bolted to a 33-0 halftime lead en route to a 45-0 win over the Bears in Merced, were trailing 10-0 when the game turned in a flash.
Further, Clovis North winner of section Division I and D-II championships in the past two years had gone lost fumble, punt, punt, lost fumble and punt in its first five possessions as the Bears of the Sac-Joaquin Section took command behind defensive standouts Jermon Cook, Hunter Clark and Jamell Bedford.
But Autry, the Broncos' junior quarterback who had completed 61.5 percent of his passes in the past two weeks in his first varsity starts, suddenly found his touch after a 3-for-8, 21-yard start.
His 21- and 11-yard strikes established rhythm before he and Locklin delivered a 1-2 combination.
Autry, on third-and-9 from the Merced 21, found Locklin slanting right. One of several college prospects on this team, he caught the ball on the 5, escaped two defenders and danced into the end zone.
Chris Henell then fluttered a PAT kick that clanked off the crossbar and through, cutting Merced's lead to 10-7 with 25 seconds left in the half.
The Bears, on the first play of their ensuing possession, had a poor center exchange with Clovis North lineman Harrison Crawford recovering on the Merced 33 at 0:15.
The Broncos, having suddenly found life, then struck immediately when Locklin beat junior cornerback Jabar Byrd in single coverage and dived for the 33-yard reception and score from Autry for a 14-10 lead with 8 seconds to go.
Merced would never regain the handle. In fact, the Bears lost it again, fumbling midway through the third quarter, which Clovis North converted on Bolu Olorunfunmi's 8-yard touchdown run for a 20-10 lead.
"It was a little frustrating in how we lost," Bears coach Rob Scheidt said. "I really felt we outplayed them in the first half, even at times in the second. But we're making mistakes play to play, which doesn't get us to the end of the game."
A year following an All-State sophomore season, Olorunfunmi secured the win by continually plowing the Bears on a 25-carry, 178-yard night.
That featured a 12-yard TD run in the fourth quarter when he carried six Merced defenders count 'em, six for the final 5 yards.
Locklin sprained his left ankle on the play and didn't return, but he says he expects to return when Clovis North opens the Tri-River Athletic Conference at The Vet against Clovis West Oct. 11.