MERCED — With a somber team huddled around him, Merced College football coach Bob Casey talked about the importance of playing a 60-minute game.
His players got a first-hand look at the perils of not doing so on Saturday afternoon.
The Blue Devils could do little wrong in the first half, but seemed to ease off the throttle during intermission. That allowed two-time defending Golden Gate Conference champion Chabot to blow past them in the second half for a 33-28 victory at Stadium '76.
"We talked about it at halftime," Casey said. "They're the two-time defending champs. They were going to come out and give us all they had. We didn't have their intensity to start the second half and we weren't able to recover in time."
The MC offense picked right up where it left off last week, moving the ball at will against a solid Chabot defense. The Blue Devils (2-5, 0-1 GGC) never punted in the first half and wracked up 356 yards of total offense.
Quarterback Javon Smith (398 total yards) led the way, passing for over 300 yards for the second straight week. Seventy two of those came on the game's first play from scrimmage as he found Travis Marion (career-high 10 catches for 202 yards) for a touchdown pass.
It was the start of a big afternoon for the pair, which hooked up again for a 46-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.
Smith added a third touchdown pass when he found Carlos Diaz for a 3-yard strike with 10 seconds left in the second quarter, sending MC into intermission up 22-13.
Dominating as MC's offensive performance was, it could have been better. The Blue Devils turned the ball over on downs at the Chabot 3-yard line. They also missed a 30-yard field goal try and a pair of extra points. Those five points would come back to bite them.
"We were clicking," Marion said. "We moved the ball well. Everybody seemed to be on the same page, but we left points out there also. It could have been a really huge half, but we missed some chances. It cost us."
The Gladiators (4-2, 1-0 GGC) simply didn't give the MC offense the chance to get going again in the second half. Chabot held onto the ball for 21 minutes, 42 seconds after the break. It set the tone with a 10-play, 76-yard drive on the opening possession of the second half.
After MC's first punt of the game, the Gladiators went right back to work. They chewed up almost five minutes with an 11-play, 68-yard scoring drive to put them up for good. Jayde Rowe (21 carries for 190 yards) punched in his third rushing touchdown of the game to make it 27-22.
Chabot tacked on a pair of field goals to make it a two-score game with 3:52 to play.
The Blue Devil offense finally responded, getting a first-and-goal after a fantastic 61-yard, one-handed catch in traffic by Trunell McMillon (5-129).
A tough break cost MC on the next play, however, as Smith's pass attempt was deflected and ruled an interception despite the ball clearly hitting the turf.
Reginal Harris gave the Blue Devils one last hope, returning a punt 64 yards for a touchdown with 1:37 to play. Chabot recovered the ensuing onside kick, however, to hold on for its third straight single-score victory over MC.
"Coach told us they were going to try to take over," said defensive end Success Chandler, who finished with nine tackles. "Some guys got comfortable with our lead at halftime and our motors weren't the same in the second half.
"We kept fighting until the end, but we ran out of time."