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Prep football: Merced faces back-to-back games in Turlock with CCC title on the line

The 26-mile stretch of Highway 99 from Merced to Turlock is what stands in the way of a third straight Central California Conference title for Rob Scheidt and his Merced football team.

Merced (4-0 CCC, 7-1 overall) will make the trip to John Debely Stadium twice to close out the regular season.

First, Merced faces Turlock (3-1, 7-1) tonight with the opportunity to wrap up a share of the CCC title -- and a playoff birth, to boot.

Merced then makes a return trip to Turlock next week to square off against Pitman (3-1, 6-2) in what could be another big showdown.

"I'm not happy about it," Scheidt said. "It's not the ride to Turlock. It's going back and trying to win in the same place two weeks in a row.

"It is what it is. It does set up for us to play some good football at the end of the year."

The playoff hopes of Los Banos (2-2, 4-4) and Atwater (2-2, 4-4) are on the line tonight at Falcon Field.

Golden Valley (1-4, 1-8) also hosts Pitman.

All games are at 7:30 p.m.

Playing in Turlock hasn't been much fun for Merced over the years.

That probably won't change tonight.

For one thing, Merced has to deal with two of the top teams in the CCC in Turlock and Pitman.

Turlock is big and physical, and has really played well since sophomore quarterback Kevin Kramer was called up from the junior varsity team Oct. 10 against Golden Valley.

"Turlock is big up front and I'm sure our lineman will have a challenge with their guys," Merced senior Kenny Cooper.

"The physical side of the game is going to be big."

Meanwhile, Merced has to deal with other elements that make playing in Turlock no easy task.

The field itself is like playing on lumpy, green-painted dirt.

It's what a golf course would look like if people all refused to replace their divots.

"In terms of our conference, it's the worst field," Scheidt said. "We used to compare it to Downey until they got their (new) turf.

"It's why so many people in our school district are looking at Field Turf after the experience of playing at Atwater."

Cooper knows what to expect.

"You have to be careful of your surroundings and have vision of the field," the three-year starter said.

"You have to watch out for potholes, and you have to be careful of your footing so you don't slip."

For whatever reason, Merced hasn't caught many breaks over the years from officials when playing in Turlock.

Scheidt watched a steady downpour of yellow flags during a 35-0 win over Turlock two years ago.

"It hasn't been real fair for us," Scheidt said. "Fortunately, we've played games where it didn't matter.

"In that 2006 game, it seemed like every time we took a step forward, we took two steps backward.

"We won 35-0, but that took an explosion in the second half."

For Cooper and his teammates, the opportunity of a third straight title is enough to block out everything else over the next two weeks.

"You just have to be smart," he said. "You can't talk.

"You just have to go out and play, get it done and get out of there."