MERCED -- Reid Herchenbach had run the play a hundred times in practice without so much as a hitch.
It was a simple comeback route, where receiver Don Moorman would jet down field, find the first-down marker and then turn.
"We make that play all the time," Blue Devil coach
Tony Lewis said. "We had it."
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Herchenbach rolled to his left on fourth down in the second overtime and threw across his body as Moorman curled back along the sideline.
Moorman dove to make the catch but was ruled out of bounds -- three yards short of the first down -- preserving Laney College's wild 37-30 double-overtime victory at
Don Odishoo Field on Saturday afternoon.
Terjean Saffold scored the go-ahead touchdown on the first series of the second overtime for the Eagles, who captured their first-ever Mid-Empire Conference crown.
"What a great game," Laney coach Jay Uchiumi said, seconds after being soaked in a water-cooler celebration.
"Both teams slugged it out. It's a shame someone had to lose."
The loss dashed MC's hopes for its first conference championship and bowl berth since 1997.
Instead, the Eagles move on to face Modesto Junior College in the Graffiti Bowl.
"I'm disappointed we lost, but at the same time, a lot of other teams had their seasons end three weeks ago," Lewis said. "We were here, fighting for a conference championship."
Saffold and Matt Dardeene carried the torch for the Eagles (5-0 MEC, 9-0), who trailed just once all day.
Saffold rushed for 68 yards, scored two touchdowns, and started Laney toward a 14-0 cushion with a 29-yard scoring grab on the first possession of the game.
Dardeene was 23 of 45 for 353 yards and two touchdowns, but his gaffe in the waning seconds of regulation gave the Blue Devils a glimmer of hope.
After a Garrett Turner run made it 27-27 late in the fourth quarter, Dardeene orchestrated Laney's two-minute offense to near-perfection.
He was 3 of 4 on the drive, and his 8-yard slant with 13 seconds left moved the ball to the MC 7.
Then Uchiumi got greedy.
Instead of kicking the field goal -- which would have almost assured a regulation win -- Uchiumi had Dardeene toss a jump ball into the corner of the end zone.
The pass crashed off cornerback Dominique Davis' chest and into the lap of linebacker Pedro White, who knelt on it to force overtime.
"We thought we'd take a shot," Uchiumi said. "I guess we wanted to play a little longer."
Both teams traded field goals in the first overtime.
Turner (26 carries for 137 yards) was knocked for a loss on third-and-goal from the 1, setting up Adrian Trevino's chip shot.
The 20-yard field goal gave MC its first lead of the game at 30-27.
Even after Laney sent the game into a second overtime with a 42-yard field goal, Lewis felt like momentum finally had swung toward Merced (3-2 MEC, 4-6 overall).
"I really felt like we were on way," Lewis said. "All those events, and how we got the game into overtime, I thought that there was no way we'd be denied.
"Not today. Not on our own field."
Saffold begged to differ.
The pinball running back took a handoff on the second play of the second overtime and crashed into a wall of defenders at the 20.
With a few quick steps and then a burst, he bounced the run outside and up the sideline for the eventual game-winning score.
Herchenbach, who was 20 of 30 for 162 yards and three scores, tried to rally his team.
But nothing worked.
The sophomore was sacked for a 7-yard loss on third-and-short, and then his desperation heave to Moorman failed to connect.
"We had that play," Lewis said. "We worked on it all week in practice and it must have worked a hundred times."
Just not on Saturday -- not when his team needed it the most.