David DeLaTorre just shook his head when he asked about teammate Bernard Bolden's performance Friday night.
"I don't know how to describe it," DeLaTorre said. "I guess you could just say it was Devin Hester-like. That's his favorite player."
The Chicago Bears star would have been impressed.
Bolden returned the opening kickoff 89 yards down to the 1-yard line to set up a Merced touchdown, and later returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown.
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By the end of the night, full-time safety Bolden -- who was forced into duty at tailback when Stephon Mathis reinjured his right ankle -- finished with three touchdowns as Merced opened Central California Conference play with a 30-7 win over Pitman at Don Odishoo Field.
"That week off really helped us," said Merced coach Rob Scheidt, whose team improved to 4-0. "We were able to get Bernard some work in at running back.
"He's a very smart football player. He knows the game very well."
Bolden wasted little time making an impact on the game.
He sprinted by the Pitman coverage team and appeared headed for a 90-yard kickoff return before he was stopped just short of the goal line.
"When I was running by the kicker, I stumbled on my feet and I think that slowed me down," Bolden said.
Mathis scored on a 1-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage
to give Merced a 7-0 lead just 18 seconds into the game.
Mathis limped off the field with 10 mintues left in the second quarter after reinjuring his ankle, and didn't return.
Bolden gave a struggling Merced offense a spark with 68 yards rushing, and hauled in a 5-yard touchdown pass to give Merced a 13-0 lead late in the second quarter.
He added a 2-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter and even attempted the first pass of his career -- which fell incomplete.
"If I was iffy on a play, I would ask the guys in the huddle," Bolden said. "They told me what to do. When they called the pass play, Jarrett (Sparks) told me I was supposed to throw the ball."
At one point, Bolden was even suggesting plays to Scheidt.
"He just wanted to run the toss play so he could show the gas," Scheidt said.
"He just wanted to outrun them."
Bolden's punt return early in the third quarter gave Merced a 23-0 lead to put the game out of reach.
"I just had to get one tonight," Bolden said. "Last year, Carlos Acosta was taking them back all the time."
The Merced defense was just as impressive, holding Pitman (2-2) to just one first down and 51 yards of total offense in the first half.
"When we feel the other offense getting discouraged it makes us go crazy," DeLaTorre said. "It feels good when we're pushing the offense backward."
Merced came up with four sacks on the 12 plays Pitman attempted to pass.
"Our defense really amazes me," Scheidt said. "We were a little disappointed when they scored."
Merced plays its final non-league game at home Friday against Modesto Beyer.
Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.