The Merced High School football team has a legitimate chance of landing in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs after playing in the Division I field the last four years.
The addition of El Capitan has Merced with just 1,734 students.
If the Bears end up in a three-way tie for the Central California Conference championship and win tiebreakers over Turlock and Pitman, Merced would earn the conference’s top seed and have to play in Division II because the CCC is considered a D-II league.
If Merced ends up with the No. 2 or 3 seed out of the CCC, the Bears could fall to Division III if that’s where its enrollment slots them.
Merced (5-2) would have a great opportunity to make a deep playoff run in Division III. There’s a huge difference in high-end talent between Divisions II and III. Division II is loaded with Sacramento-area heavyweights Del Oro and Grant.
The top teams in Division III will likely be Manteca and Oakdale. Very good teams but teams that Merced can match up against much easier than Del Oro or Grant.
It could leave Merced coach Rob Scheidt with some interesting decisions late against Turlock next week if the Bears get past Buhach Colony this week.
Of course, the Bears want to win a fourth consecutive league title and need to win out and hope the Bulldogs can knock off Pitman in the final week to earn a share of the title.
Here’s where the interesting decisions come in. The tiebreaker to determine the higher playoff seedings in the section is margin of victory. So if Merced defeats Turlock by two touchdowns (there is a 13-point maximum margin of victory considered in the tiebreaker), there is a good chance the Bears end up with the top seed if the Bulldogs turn around and defeat Pitman.
If the Bears defeat Turlock by seven or fewer, they likely won’t earn the top seed because Merced lost to Pitman 34-27.
So if Merced is sitting with a seven-point lead late, Scheidt may not want to score and try to run out the clock. If Merced is up 14 and Turlock has the ball in the red zone in the final seconds, do you let the Bulldogs score?
These are the things sports reporters think about when we get off at 2 a.m. on Friday nights.
On to this week’s predictions:
Merced (5-2, 2-1 CCC) at Buhach Colony (4-4, 2-2) – Sort of gave away my prediction above. I wouldn’t have bothered trying to explain the scenarios possibly facing Merced if I didn’t think the Bears would win this matchup. Merced is just better on both sides of the ball. Prediction: Merced.
Atwater (0-7, 0-3 CCC) at Turlock (5-2, 3-0) – The Bulldogs have won five consecutive games, and the Falcons have lost seven in a row. Even Sean Lynch could predict this one. Prediction: Turlock.
Pitman (7-0, 3-0 CCC) at El Capitan (2-6, 1-3) – Since beating Golden Valley 21-7 to open conference play, the Gauchos have lost three in a row and have been outscored 131-7. Prediction: Pitman.
Central Valley (6-1, 2-0 Western Athletic Conference) at Pacheco (4-3, 2-0) – Last week, Central Valley won a defensive battle 16-8 over Los Banos. This week, I expect a shootout because it wouldn’t be a Pacheco game without it. The Panthers are just too explosive. Prediction: Pacheco.
Los Banos (4-3, 1-1 WAC) at Patterson (1-6, 0-2) – The season just unraveled for Patterson after it came in as the favorite to repeat in the WAC. Los Banos is looking to rebound after a disappointing loss to Central Valley. Prediction: Los Banos.
Livingston (1-6, 0-2 WAC) at Ceres (3-4, 1-1) – The Wolves’ secondary will be tested against the pass-happy Bulldogs. Ceres is coming off a 48-41 upset of Patterson. Too much momentum for Ceres. Prediction: Ceres.
Modesto Christian (3-4, 1-1 Trans-Valley League) at Hilmar (6-1, 2-0) – The Yellowjackets’ defense will be focused on Crusaders star Chris Brown, who has racked up 848 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. Hilmar was the preseason TVL favorite and has lived up to the billing. Prediction: Hilmar.
Delhi (7-0, 4-0 Southern League) at Denair (4-3, 2-2) – The Hawks were banged up last week and sat star Jesse Flores. No problem because Fabian Garcia ran for 149 yards on seven carries and scored three touchdowns in a 57-7 win over Le Grand. Delhi will keep rolling this week. Prediction: Delhi.
Mariposa (2-5, 1-3 SL) at Ripon Christian (2-5, 1-3) – The Grizzlies picked up their first victory in league play last week with a 28-0 win over Waterford. I’ll give the Grizzlies a slight edge over the Knights, who struggled to score. Prediction: Mariposa.
Gustine (4-3, 3-1 SL) at Le Grand (0-7, 0-4) – Gustine stopped Ripon Christian on a late two-point conversion to hold on for a 21-20 win last week. The Reds should keep their playoff hopes alive against the struggling Bulldogs. Prediction: Gustine.
Stone Ridge Christian (7-0, 3-0 Central California Athletic Alliance) at Millennium (5-1, 2-0) – This matchup could decided the CCAA championship. The Knights are hitting the road after playing four of their last five at home. Shane Casillas continues to work his way back into the SRC backfield, rushing for 78 yards and a touchdown last week against Riverbank. Prediction: Stone Ridge Christian.
Dos Palos (3-4, 1-1 West Sierra League) at Firebaugh (6-1, 1-1) – The Eagles lost for the first time last week against Mendota. Meanwhile, Dos Palos snapped a four-game losing streak with a tough win on the road at Coalinga. Toss-up game. Prediction: Dos Palos.
Last week: 9-3. Year to date: 81-13 (.861).