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'Stay the course': Blue Devils holding tight to team goals, focused on Feather River

Tony Lewis has been here before.

Thirty-plus years of coaching has taught the Merced College boss about the ebb and flow of a football season.

So, while unhappy fans in the crowd and online bloggers may be calling for the coach's job after a surprising 0-4 start to the season, Lewis just stays the course.

"If we win (today), we'll have the same record we had last year heading into conference play," Lewis said. "Everybody was ready to give up on us last year and we ended up playing for a conference championship.

"The coaches and players haven't given up on this season. We still have goals.

"The ultimate goal every season is to win a conference title and we can still do that."

The Blue Devils are banged up, but with the bye week looming, MC could enter Golden Gate Conference play with momentum.

From there, things could get interesting.

No team in the GGC has shown themselves to be a front-runner.

Chabot, Cabrillo and Laney are all 2-2, while Modesto and Los Medanos are both 1-3.

"There are no pushovers in the conference, but there's nobody that can't be beaten, either." Lewis said. "I've seen actual progress the last two weeks against some pretty good teams.

"What we can't do is erase our performance in the first two games, but we've definitely shored up some of the problems we had in those games."

The one place Lewis hasn't seen progress is on the scoreboard.

Despite being able to move the ball with some consistency, the Blue Devils have struggled reaching the end zone.

MC's 45 points in four games is the third lowest total in the state.

Points probably won't come any easier today with starting tight ends Kyle McMillin and Steven Bower both out with injury.

A Feather River squad that has surrendered just over 36 points a game should help, though.

"The passing game's hurting a little bit, so it's very important we come out and establish the run," running back Darius Roland said. "It all comes down to execution.

"We were in the red zone so many times last week, and we'd drop a pass or miss an open guy.

"We're right there."

Lewis has challenged his defense to tighten things up, as well.

"Our defense hasn't played poorly, but they haven't been dominant at times like we thought they would be," Lewis said. "We thought teams would have trouble moving the ball against us.

"We've put the defense in some tough spots, but we need to become the kind of defense that holds teams to three points in those situations instead of giving up seven."

Linebacker Kelsey Mankins said the defense is up to the task.

"There's no doubt we can play better," Mankins said. "Our tackling's been a little weak the last couple games.

"We've had a good week of practice, though. We'll be ready to go.

"We saw last year how quickly a season can change. We just need to get the win (today) and get momentum heading into the conference."

Sean Lynch is a Sun-Star sports writer. He can be reached at 385-2476 or via e-mail at slynch@mercedsun-star.com.

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