LOS ANGELES -- Friday night was about making a statement for Jarrett Sparks and the Merced football team.
Consider it made.
Sparks scored two big touchdowns -- returning the second-half kickoff 79 yards for the eventual game-winning score -- as Merced knocked off Los Angeles Crenshaw 21-14.
For Sparks, it was an opportunity to showcase his talents in a game that also featured two other highly recruited receivers -- Kemonte Bateman and Clint Floyd -- on the other sideline.
Never miss a local story.
"There was definitely a lot of talk about Kemonte Bateman and he's a good player," Sparks said. "This was a chance for me to show I'm capable of doing the same things he is."
It didn't take long for Sparks -- who already has offers from five Pac-10 schools -- to put on a show.
With Merced trailing 8-0, Sparks worked his way behind the Crenshaw secondary and hauled in a 58-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brandon Garcia to bring his team within 8-7 with 9:01 left in the first half.
"Jarrett is just a football player," Merced coach
Rob Scheidt said. "I don't know how else to say it. He was focused today and he's not always like that.
"Jarrett is one of our funny guys. But when I saw how focused he was earlier on today, I knew he was going to play well."
Crenshaw's stars played well, too.
Bateman showed why he has already verbally committed to UCLA. The senior hauled in six passes for 96 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown that gave Crenshaw a 14-7 lead with 4:44 left in the first half.
Crenshaw quarterback Cameron Hart attacked the Merced secondary in the first half completing 11 of 17 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns. Hart finished with 243 yards passing and Floyd -- who has received offers from Arizona State and Washington -- caught four balls for 50 yards.
Merced finally slowed down Crenshaw's aerial assault with its pass rush.
Merced sacked Hart five times in the first half, including three straight plays on Crenshaw's final possession in the second quarter.
"Early on, they were completing passes they didn't complete last year," Scheidt said. "That's why they were able to possess the ball so long. We knew we had to get pressure on their quarterback. That was big for us."
Merced definitely had the momentum at the half after running back Stephon Mathis helped tie the game at 14-14 with a 9-yard touchdown run.
Sparks then came up with another big play to start the second half. The senior made just one move to elude a Crenshaw defender, then Sparks hit the hole and ran away from his pursuers en route to a 79-yard kickoff return.
"I thought the ball was going to bounce to Bernard (Bolden), but it stopped right in front of me," Sparks said. "I just picked it up, made a move and it opened up."
The Merced defense slowed down Crenshaw in the second half and Merced's running game -- behind Mathis' 114 yards -- helped keep Hart and company off the field.
When Crenshaw did threaten, Bolden was there to come up with two key second-half interceptions, including one inside Merced's 20-yard line that sealed the game with 53 seconds left.
Despite losing many of its key players from last year's team which reached the section title game, Merced quickly showed why it should be considered a contender again this year.
"Oh yeah, this was big," Bolden said. "A lot of people think with Logan and Carter Todd and a lot of those guys gone, that we won't be good. This helps prove them wrong."