Travante Richard called it the second biggest catch of his high school career.
Some may disagree, but everyone in black and orange was celebrating after the Merced High senior outjumped Pitman's Ken Nichols to haul in a 23-yard touchdown reception with 8 seconds left to lift the Bears to a 21-14 win on Friday night at Veterans Stadium. (See video highlights and interview).
"That ball was high," said Richard, who caught nine passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns. "It was in the lights. I had to go up and get it. I was waiting for somebody to hit me.
"I just wanted to win the game. There was nothing else on my mind. I can't even describe what it felt like to catch it."
Richard still ranks his game-winning touchdown against Downey in Merced's first-ever, on-campus home game last year at No. 1 on his list.
"I'd have to disagree," Bears head coach Rob Scheidt said. "Historically, that catch against Downey might be bigger, but I think this was a bigger catch. First place in league was on the line."
The Bears (6-2 overall, 3-0 Central California Conference) overcame a shaky performance that included three turnovers and 14 penalties, resulting in 140 yards.
Merced turned the ball over twice in the first half, which helped Pitman pull even 7-7 just before halftime.
The Pride (5-3, 1-2) opened the second half with their only long drive in the game. Pitman used 15 straight rushing plays to march 73 yards with Mario Lewis scoring on a 2-yard touchdown to take a 14-7 lead with 7:39 left in the third quarter.
"That's a very good football team," Pitman head coach Tom Tyler said. "We played well. I thought we outplayed them. We just didn't get it done, but I'm proud of our guys."
The Bears finally got their ground game going in the second half as Kris Turner-Jackson tied the game with a touchdown run on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
After giving up the long drive, the Bears defense didn't surrender a first down the rest of the way.
Two false start penalties on Pitman helped stop key drives which gave the ball back to the Bears.
"On those false starts (Merced) was yelling hut," Tyler said. "They were mimicking our snap count. That's what freshmen football teams do.
"That's got to be called. If it's not going to be called they should keep doing it."
Merced twice had opportunities to take the lead in the fourth quarter.
Richard caught a ball near the goal line and fumbled into the arms of a Pitman defender in the end zone for a touchback midway through the fourth.
"You can't put your head down after that play," Richard said. "You have to go after the ball."
Bears kicker Daniel Silva also missed a potential go-ahead 38-yard field goal with 2:01 left.
Merced was able to get the ball back at its own 30-yard line with 1 minute left.
"Watching us on that final drive, we were in our element," Scheidt said. "We try to play fast anyway. We're in a two-minute offense all the time.
"Looking at our kids' faces, there was no panic. They were like let's just go make plays and they did."
Bears quarterback Tyrone Williams went to work, completing all five passes on the drive for 70 yards. Williams completed 23 of 27 passes for 272 yards and two scores.
Shawn Jansen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 385-2462.