Merced's potential run through the playoffs has hit a detour -- and it hasn't even started.
Merced will be without star receiver Jarrett Sparks tonight -- and possibly the rest of the postseason -- when it hosts Modesto Grace Davis in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Don Odishoo Field.
Sparks is sidelined with mononucleosis. He can't return to school until Monday and his doctor told him he should stay away from football for at least two weeks.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Merced Sun-Star
"I never felt why me, just why did it happen now at the start of the playoffs? The hardest part is I feel fine now," Sparks said. "I'm tired. That's the only thing."
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior has 41 receptions for 822 yards and 14 touchdowns this season.
The illness flared up while he was on a recruiting trip last weekend at Oregon State.
Sparks originally thought he had food poisoning after eating lobster on Saturday.
However, when he returned to Merced on Monday, he still had a sore throat.
Sparks was diagnosed with "mono" after a trip to the doctor's office on Wednesday.
"It hit me when the doctor told me I couldn't play," Sparks said. "I could see it if I was hurt. The toughest part is that I feel I can play."
Merced coach Rob Scheidt knows his star receiver will be hard to replace.
"I know there has been a lot of arguments about the league MVP," Scheidt said. "Anybody who has watched Jarrett play or critiqued him knows he's a great blocker.
"There's not a guy in our league that blocks like him. He makes some great catches. He's our punter. He's our team captain.
"There are a lot of areas where we're going to miss him."
Merced (10-0) may turn to backs Stephon Mathis and Bernard Bolden to lean on its running game against Davis (6-4).
Receivers Eddie Beavers, Allen Huddleston and Juan Calderon will have to help pick up the slack in the passing game -- along with tight end Kenny Cooper.
"I would be crying if I were in Jarrett's shoes," Beavers said. "He can't go to school or practice. Now we're in the playoffs and he can't play.
"We want to keep on winning and maybe get Jarrett back out there so he can play one more game in his senior year."
If there was any good news this week for Merced, cornerback Jamichael Turner's hamstring is improving.
Turner will be back in the lineup tonight after playing sparingly last week against Los Banos.
"It feels a lot better than last week," Turner said. "I think the big difference is I've been treating it with ice and heat. Last week, I didn't do anything for it.
"It's something I have to play through. It's not going to go away."
Sparks isn't ruling out a return next week if Merced advances in the playoffs.
If he continues to feel better, he may try to see his doctor next week.
"It's nothing you can do anything about," Scheidt said. "There's nothing he can do.
"Just bad timing."
Division I Playoffs
at Merced (10-0)
WHEN: Tonight, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Merced College's Don Odishoo Field
AND THE WINNER GETS... The winner of tonight's
St. Mary's-Tracy game.
St. Mary's (9-1) is the TCAL champion, and Tracy (6-3) finished second in the SJAA.
NOTEABLE GAME: CCC
No. 2 Pitman faces Beyer tonight. With two wins, Pitman could face Merced a second time this season -- this time in the section semifinals. Merced defeated Pitman 30-7 in the first meeting.