MERCED — Defensive coordinator Justin Pinasco said he almost brought out his cattle prod.
After causing the Reedley offense fits in Saturday's opening half, the Merced College pass rush was nonexistent for most of the second. It paved the way for a second straight Blue Devil collapse as Reedley quarterback Trey Mitchell began to pick MC apart.
The Blue Devil defensive line responded — sans prod — just in time. Sione Tongamoa's sack helped force Reedley to turn the ball over on downs late and Jesse Jimenez stripped Mitchell in the end zone for a safety that sealed a 43-28 victory at Stadium '76.
"Guys just had to dig deep and step up and make a play," said Jimenez, who finished with two of the team's eight sacks. "It wasn't pretty, but we got it done. These are the games you remember.
"We talked about it during our pregame meeting. Sometimes it's just about finding a way to win."
The final score gives little indication of just how nervy things got for the Blue Devils (3-5, 1-1 Golden Gate Conference). Jimenez's safety came with 8 seconds left in the game and Trunell McMillon recovered the ensuing onside kick and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown.
Beyond that, the MC offense could do little to answer as the Tigers whittled down a 34-7 halftime deficit. The collapse was particularly shocking considering it came on the heels of second-half meltdown and loss to Chabot.
Blue Devil quarterback Javon Smith re-injured an ankle that had sidelined him for a couple games earlier in the season, and never looked particularly comfortable after.
The offense never developed a rhythm as a result and looked completely out of sorts as it produced just 15 yards and fumbled once in its first four possessions of the second half.
Reedley (1-6, 0-1 GGC) took advantage, clawing its way back into the game with Mitchell touchdown passes of 45 and 36 yards and a 1-yard Robert Lowers TD run. Damien Strickland's TD catch trimmed the lead to 34-28 with 7 minutes, 44 seconds left.
MC finally strung together a couple first downs, but had its drive stall at the Reedley 34, handing the ball back over with just under 4 minutes to play.
The Tigers drove to their 47-yard line, when Tongamoa delivered a big first-down sack. Reedley was called for a hold on the next play and eventually turned the ball over on downs.
The Blue Devils couldn't quite run out the clock, but punter Desi Villanueva pinned Reedley at its own 7-yard line. Jimenez finished things off with his sack two plays later.
"It wasn't like I didn't warn them at halftime," MC head coach Bob Casey said. "They had a perfect example of what could happen right in their faces. The bottom line was we made plays when we needed to.
"We got a couple first downs, forced some turnovers and the defensive line came up huge."
McMillon caught a 16-yard touchdown pass on the game's opening drive to put MC up 7-0. Cory Chapman punched in a 3-yard score to make it 14-7 midway through the first quarter.
The MC defense took over from there.
Isaac Diaz intercepted a pass and took it 65 yards for a score. Success Chandler (four sacks) followed with a sack and forced fumble that handed MC a first-and-goal. Chapman ran it in from 8 yards out on the next play.
Travis Marion (7 catches for 207 yards) made it 34-7 when he leapt up and stole the ball from a defensive back in the end zone for a 41-yard touchdown pass.
"We tried not to, but I think we went into halftime a little overconfident," Diaz said. "We probably got a little too conservative in the second half, trying to keep everything in front of us.
"It was definitely a scare, but we're happy to win and get ready for next week."
REDDING — The UC Merced women's volleyball team's struggles continued on Saturday.
Patricia Schellentrager paced the Golden Bobcats with 11 kills, but they still dropped a pivotal California Pacific Conference matchup 25-19, 25-13, 18-25, 25-21 to Simpson University.
The loss was UCM's fifth in it its last six contests and dropped the Bobcats out of the fourth and final spot for the Cal Pac Conference Tournament.
Merced (11-11, 3-5 Cal Pac) closes out its season with four straight home matches.
Women: UC Merced 1, Soka University 0
Karen Lepe found Daisy Bonilla for a goal 30 minutes into the first half and the Bobcats (5-7-1, 3-6-1 Cal Pac) held on from there for a Cal Pac victory over Soka at Bowl Field.
Men: Soka Univ. 3, UC Merced 1
Pedro Ramirez got the Bobcats (4-8, 4-7 Cal Pac) a consolation goal off of the bench, but it wasn't enough to overcome the three-goal lead they spotted Soka.