Rolling along after a 7-0 start -- and ranked 16th in the state -- it seems almost as if Merced has been crowned Central California Conference champion.
In reality, Merced hasn't clinched anything yet -- not with three games remaining in the regular season.
That fact is not lost on Merced coach Rob Scheidt.
"There's nothing (done), we could be knocked out of the playoffs quickly," Scheidt said.
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"We feel like we're playing for a championship (tonight). We'll continue to play that way until we play Los Banos."
Golden Valley will try to slay the giant tonight when it hosts Merced in the battle for the Mayor's Cup.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Don Odishoo Field.
In other CCC action Atwater (1-2 CCC, 2-5 overall) hosts Pitman (3-1, 5-2) and Buhach Colony (0-3, 1-6) travels to Turlock (0-4, 1-6).
Los Banos plays out of the conference against winless Madera South.
GV coach Jon Betschart and his team are well aware most people don't give them a shot to win tonight.
It's just extra motivation against their cross-town rival.
"It's big," Betschart said. "We have nothing to lose.
"We're loose and ready to go."
Golden Valley holds an 8-5 edge in the all-time series between the two schools.
Merced broke a three-game losing streak to GV with a 38-14 win last year.
Merced has been rolling over its opponents this year.
Scheidt's crew has outscored its three CCC opponents 117-28.
Star Jarrett Sparks has been unstoppable. Over the past two weeks, Sparks has caught eight passes for 322 yards and seven touchdowns.
Quarterback Brandon Garcia has passed for 954 yards and 15 touchdowns this season.
After struggling against Sonora and Pitman, the Merced offense is back on track.
"It's come down to one thing. Our protection has been much better," Scheidt said. "We're not making as many mistakes on the offensive line in the run game.
"We're allowing our playmakers to make plays. It's no more complicated than that right there."
As if things couldn't get worse for Golden Valley, Merced is getting healthier.
Tight end Kenny Cooper will be back after missing the last two weeks with a hamstring injury.
Running back Darrion Gray was also has been cleared to play.
The Merced senior has been sidelined since injuring his knee against Madera the second week of the season.
So just how does Golden Valley (2-1 CCC, 4-3 overall) plan to slow down Merced?
"No one really has so far," Betschart said. "We have a couple different coverage schemes we've worked on.
"We have to rally to the ball because they have a lot of athletes."
Betschart feels GV's best bet to pull the upset is to keep the Merced offense off the field.
It won't be easy against a Merced defense that is giving up less than 10 points per game.
"We're going to play as hard as we can," Betschart said. "If we can force a couple turnovers to give ourselves a chance...
"The longer we can hang around, the better chance we give ourselves of pulling an upset."
Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Merced (7-0, 3-0 CCC) at Golden Valley (4-3, 2-1 CCC)
WHEN: Tonight, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Merced College's Stadium '76
SERIES RECORD: Golden Valley, 8-5.
NOTE TO FANS: Both schools ask for fans to enter from the appropriate gate tonight. Golden Valley fans should enter through the main gate, and Merced fans should enter through the Tri-Valley Center entrance.
Pitman (5-2, 3-1 CCC)
at Atwater (2-5, 1-2 CCC)
Buhach Colony (1-6, 0-3 CCC) at Turlock (1-6, 0-4 CCC)
Los Banos (4-3, 3-1 CCC)
at Madera South (0-8)
Gustine (0-7, 0-2 WAC)
at Livingston (0-7, 0-5 WAC)
Orestimba (2-5, 1-1 WAC)
at Hilmar (5-2, 1-1 WAC)
Sierra (2-5, 0-3 NSL)
at Chowchilla (6-2, 1-2 NSL)
Washington Union (5-3, 3-0)
at Dos Palos (3-5, 1-2 NSL)
Denair (5-2, 2-0 SL)
at Delhi (2-5, 1-1 SL)
Turlock Christian (7-0, 2-0 SL) at Le Grand (3-4, 1-1 SL)
Waterford (4-3, 0-1 SL)
at Mariposa (4-3, 0-1 SL)
Stone Ridge Christian (3-3, 1-1) at Brookside Christian (0-7, 0-2)
Mayor's Cup Results
2006: Merced 38, Golden Valley 14
2005: Golden Valley 38, Merced 35 (3 OT)
2004: Golden Valley 21, Merced 10
2003: Golden Valley 24, Merced 7
2002: Merced 6, Golden Valley 0 (OT)
2001: Merced 17, Golden Valley 6
2000: Merced 21, Golden Valley 7
1999: Golden Valley 35, Merced 14
1998: Golden Valley 42, Merced 14
1997: Golden Valley 33, Merced 0
1996: Golden Valley 21, Merced 7
1995: Golden Valley 53, Merced 14
1994: Merced 43, Golden Valley 21