Darian Owens’ special teams blunder opened the door for Merced to get back in the game early in the second half.
The Clovis West star made up for it and then some, scoring on a 41-yard run and an 83-yard pass as the Golden Eagles held off the Bears 49-39 at Veterans Memorial Stadium on Friday night in the season opener for both teams.
Owens, who is being recruited by big-time colleges like USC and Oklahoma, also intercepted four passes by basically playing center field from the safety position.
The two teams lit up the scoreboard and filled up the stat sheets.
Merced didn’t have an answer for Clovis West quarterback Kordel Hoffman. The senior didn’t look like he was making his first start in the Golden Eagles new spread attack. Hoffman completed 18 of 25 passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns.
Hoffman also added 115 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
The Golden Eagles jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter with the help of Jordan Mendoza’s touchdown runs of 5 and 60 yards. Mendoza finished with 142 yards on 16 carries.
Clovis West racked up 659 yards of offense. Caleb Kelly caught six passes for 130 yards, including two first-half touchdowns.
The Bears defense struggled without starters Jermon Cook, Justin Solis and Lawrence Anderson, who were all out with injuries.
Merced battled back to cut the lead to 28-13 at the half as Nick Camper hauled in a 12-yard touchdown pass from Tyrone Williams and Jabar Byrd scored on a 1-yard run.
Owens then failed to field the opening kickoff of the second half and Merced’s Ulonzo Gilliam pounced on at the Clovis West 20-yard line.
Byrd cashed in a few plays later on a 9-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 28-19. Byrd finished with 185 yards and three touchdowns.
Merced twice trimmed the lead to two points in the second half after touchdown runs by Gilliam and Byrd but couldn’t pull ahead.
Williams completed 29 of 60 passes for 402 yards, but threw five interceptions. Josh Taylor caught 11 passes for 210 yards.
Merced will host El Capitan at Veterans Stadium next week.