For the Golden Valley High School football team, making the playoffs wasn’t supposed to come down to the final game of the season.
A shocking loss to El Capitan followed by a loss to Buhach Colony helped set the stage. Then narrow defeats to Central California Conference heavyweights Turlock and Pitman have shown the Cougars are capable of pulling off a big win.
It’s all led to Friday’s dramatic conclusion in the Battle for the Mayor’s Cup as Golden Valley (5-4, 1-4 CCC) squares off against Merced (6-3, 3-2) at Veterans Stadium.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“Anything can happen in a rivalry game,” Golden Valley coach Dennis Stubbs said. “The way we’ve played the two best teams, it gives us a chance. We think we can compete. It should be interesting.
“Everybody knows we should be in the playoffs already. Things didn’t work out. We’re excited we have another chance. To beat Merced to go to the playoffs, I don’t know if it could be better than that.”
The Cougars would have to snap a 10-game losing streak to the Bears to accomplish their goal of making the playoffs. Golden Valley last won the Mayor’s Cup in 2005.
The Cougars’ tough play against Turlock (31-28 loss on Oct. 7) and Pitman (35-21 defeat last Friday) grabbed Merced’s attention.
“Both games were in question late,” said Merced coach Rob Scheidt, whose team holds a 14-8 advantage all-time in the Cup series. “If Golden Valley scores at the end of the half against Pitman, how does that change the second half? If they don’t throw the interception on the last drive? They had a chance to win late against Turlock. They have the power to play up, and because of that, we’re worried.
“This is a big game for them to keep their season going. The Mayor’s Cup is on the line. They have a lot to play for.”
Merced already has a playoff spot with six wins. The Bears’ loss to Turlock last week ended their hopes of a fourth consecutive CCC championship.
Expect a motivated Merced team to show up Friday.
“Even with a new school in town, I don’t think it changes how these two schools look at this rivalry or what the Mayor’s Cup represents in this community and the two schools,” Scheidt said. “We pride ourselves on the ability to keep the Cup for 10 years, and we don’t want to give it up.
“We played for the Governor’s Hat (against Madera) and that was fun. The Santa Fe Bowl (against Atwater) doesn’t have a trophy or something to play for, and I feel that has diminished the rivalry. We know we’re playing for something tangible. The Mayor’s Cup is important to these kids.”
On paper, the teams look as close as they have been during the decade of Merced’s dominance. Speed and playmakers on both sides of the ball. Effective passing games and explosive running attacks.
Stubbs feels the team that gets the hot hand will win.
The Cougars haven’t played a postseason game since 2006. When these seniors were freshmen, this group – which includes two three-year starters in quarterback Armando Muzquiz and running back Isaiah Montanez – was pegged as the one that would end the playoff drought.
This is their last shot.
“We talk all the time about playing meaningful games,” Stubbs said. “This is meaningful. That’s what high school athletics is about. You want to be playing for something at the end.”