James Burns: Up for grabs

09/08/2009 1:29 AM

09/08/2009 1:52 AM

Pucker up, buttercup.

Brandon Ramirez grabbed his girlfriend, pulled her close and kissed her the way Kobe Bryant would the Larry O'Brien trophy.

But this wasn't the NBA Finals or the Super Bowl or anything remotely close to a championship game.

This was Zero Week.

What was left of it, anyway.

"What a relief," Golden Valley's senior linebacker said following the team's 44-37 victory over North Monterey County. "I'm not going to lie. After they scored on that punt return, I dropped my helmet and thought, 'Oh, no, here we go again!'

"This is extremely exciting for all of us. We got what we were working for."

And that is?

Confidence.

For Golden Valley.

For Los Banos.

For Buhach Colony and Dos Palos.

All four programs danced off the field last Friday night with helmets and chins held high, decisive winners of their first live, this-time-it-counts-against-the-record games.

Los Banos launched deep balls into space like Fresno City's Ratcliffe Stadium were a NASA substation. One rocket, two rocket, three. Quarterback Erik Martin threw four touchdown passes in all and had enough time in the pocket to write a book about it.

End result: Los Banos a lot, Fresno a little.

Buhach Colony coach Kevin Swartwood did just as he said he would: He turned the Fly Boys loose.

Running backs Corey Chapman, Jarrell Davis and Dallon Muse combined for more than 300 rushing yards, new QB Ben Watkins tossed two touchdowns and BC beat Madera South soundly for the second straight year.

Dos Palos scored more points than everybody, blanking Mendota 48-0.

But no one -- I repeat, no one partied harder than Golden Valley, which makes perfect sense because it was the only one of the six area teams to host a home game.

But the good-natured revelry and lip-locking had more to do with confidence than proximity.

Golden Valley wondered if it could be relevant again.

While Friday's victory is hardly a rubber-stamp guarantee, it is, at the very least, reassuring. For the first time in months, Jon Betschart can look his team in the eye and say, "See, boys, it's working," and truly mean it. And if you're Merced, that lump in your throat just grew to the size of a football.

There's nothing scarier than an opponent with a little bit of confidence. And now there are three.

Merced's loss, coupled with the gains made by Los Banos, Buhach Colony and Golden Valley in Week 0, cast a shadow of doubt over the Central California Conference that hasn't been there in recent years.

Are Los Banos, Buhach Colony and Golden Valley as good as they looked on Friday? More importantly, has Merced come crashing back to Earth, a mediocre meteorite?

Granted, Merced played a much tougher opponent. Bullard is ranked among the state's best with a bunch of Bernard Bolden-types. North Monterey County, Fresno and Madera South aren't state-ranked, and won't be this season.

But there's something to be said about patterns and trends and "hot vs. cold" -- the psychology of sports.

Merced has played poorly in its last two outings -- against Bullard and its final scrimmage at Fresno Central on Aug. 28.

By comparison, Golden Valley has turned heads in the last two appearances. First, in a joint scrimmage with Sacramento Grant, the CIF State Open Division champion, and then again on Friday night.

Does that mean Golden Valley or Los Banos or Buhach Colony would beat Merced if the two were to meet today? Probably not, but I can tell you this much: Their chances of springing the upset are much greater now than they were two weeks ago.

Reason No. 1: Confidence.

It's like this: If you've had your spirit crushed, like Merced has, burying a skeleton the size of Bullard ain't easy. The doubt and the second-guessing stick with you.

If you thought Napa, Del Oro and Edison was the Bermuda Triangle of football dreams -- which it may very well be -- it's nothing compared to the fires raging inside those Merced helmets right now.

But if you own the night, and make that moment yours, like Los Banos, Buhach Colony and Golden Valley did.

Man, that's confidence.

The kissing kind.

James Burns is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at jburns@mercedsun-star.com.

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