Merced High football assistant coach Reno Martinelli said the Bears locker room was as quiet at halftime as he'd seen in his 20-plus years of coaching.
Turnovers, penalties and a very determined Golden Valley defense denied the Merced offense any kind of first-half rhythm and the Bears went into intermission down by three.
The team was desperate for any kind spark and kicker Daniel Silva teamed up with Rafael Magdelano to provide it on the opening play of the second half.
Silva sent a high pooch kickoff that the Cougars let hit the turf. Magdelano dove on the loose ball and the Bears scored three plays later. Merced never looked back in a 28-9 Battle for the Mayor's Cup victory.
The win closed out a perfect 5-0 Central California Conference run for the Bears (5-0) and improved their all-time Mayor's Cup record to 12-8. It was the ninth straight time Merced defeated the Cougars (3-7, 1-4 CCC).
"The guys were pretty down at halftime," Bears head coach Rob Scheidt said. "I think they felt like they'd let everyone down in the first half.
"You never know how kids are going to respond, but obviously the response was a pretty good one."
After completing just 9 of 18 passes for 90 yards and a pair of interceptions, Merced turned to its ground game and Kris Turner-Jackson in the second half.
The senior entered the night needing 195 yards for 1,000 for the season, and his offensive line was determined to get him there after he bribed them with food.
He got Merced on the with an 18-yard touchdown run two plays after it recovered the second-half opening kick.
Turner-Jackson was at it again on Merced's next drive, punching the ball in from six yards out to make it 14-3 with 7:01 to go in the third quarter.
The Merced back got his 1,000 yards with a little room to spare, rushing for 225 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries.
His third score, a 17-yard TD run all but put the game away with 6:52 to go in the game.
"The offensive line was pretty determined to get it for him once he offered food as a reward," Scheidt said. "I felt like we ran the ball well early, but the penalties and some other things kind of forced us to get away from it.
"We felt like we had a pretty good scheme, and in the second half we did a better job of executing it."
Michael Herrera took care of all of Merced's final scoring drive. He carried seven times for 46 yards and a five-yard TD run to make it 28-3.
GV's Jashaan Wright caught a 13-yard touchdown pass with 1:25 left to close out an excellent career on a high-note.
Merced kept the Cougar star silent for most of the game, but his first-quarter interception helped open up the scoring.
Wright picked off Merced quarterback Tyrone Williams and returned it to the Bear 23-yard line.
GV's drive stalled at the Merced 7, but Cesar Tellez drained a 20-yard field goal to make it 3-0 Cougars.
A second interception and a slew of Merced penalties helped keep it 3-0 at intermission.
"I couldn't be prouder of the kids," GV head coach Dennis Stubbs said. "We were playing shorthanded. We were just filling guys in, and they stepped up and responded.
"We feel like we've closed the gap this season, and hopefully we can build upon that next year."