ATWATER -- Stephon Mathis and Bernard Bolden have a private competition going between them.
The two Merced stars battle it out each week on the practice field, pushing each other to be as good as possible come game day.
If Friday night's 41st edition of the Santa Fe Bowl was any indication, both are holding up their ends of the bargain.
The Merced duo ran wild at Falcon Field, combining for seven touchdowns and 342 rushing yards on just 16 carries in a 54-20 victory over Atwater.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Merced Sun-Star
The victory was Merced's fifth in a row against their long-time rivals.
"It's like a competition between me and (Stephon)," Bolden said. "We go at each other in practice and pump each other up in the game.
"When he breaks a big play, it motivates me to break one, too."
Big plays weren't exactly rare in this blowout.
Mathis got the excitement going by returning the game's opening kickoff 93 yards for a score.
And Merced was just getting started.
Rob Scheidt's guys scored on plays of 39, 73, 66, 63 and 32 yards while building a 41-13 lead by halftime.
Remarkably, Merced only ran 17 plays in the first 24 minutes.
"Obviously, we're pleased with the big plays, but its kind of become a problem," Scheidt said.
"Our guys are getting out of game shape because they're not getting enough plays.
"We had to keep our starters in there until the fourth quarter, just to get them the reps."
Atwater had a few big plays up its sleeve, as well.
With starting running back Dexter Coward relegated to the bench with a shoulder injury, Atwater coach Bob Valladao reached deep into his playbook.
Atwater got on the board when Anthony Montanez hit Juan Diaz for an 80-yard touchdown on a reverse pass.
Diaz added a passing touchdown when he found Nathan Sanchez on a 30-yard throw back to the quarterback.
"We can't just break down when things go badly, and I thought we did good job of continuing to battle tonight," Valladao said.
"I thought our effort throughout this game was much better than the Pitman game."
Merced just had too many big plays.
Mathis ran 11 times for 175 yards and four scores, and Bolden added 167 yards and two TDs.