TURLOCK -- Eddie Beavers made a catch that brought him to tears.
The senior receiver out-jumped a Turlock defender to haul in a 21-yard circus catch in the end zone to lift Merced to a thrilling 15-10 victory Friday night.
With one amazing grab, Beavers helped wrap up at least a share of Merced's third straight Central California Conference championship and a Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berth.
"I knew if I dropped it, the game could be over," said Beavers as he celebrated with family and friends. "I knew if I caught it, we could win the game.
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"There was no way I was going to drop it."
The play looked doomed from the start as quarterback Allen Huddleston dropped the snap.
Huddleston then rolled out left, reversed field and lofted the ball high into the end zone, where Beavers pulled down the jump ball to put Merced ahead 15-10 with 3:17 left in the game.
"My intention was to run, but then I saw Patrick Franey wide open," Huddleston said. "The defender closed in on him and I saw 'Pree' in the end zone.
" 'Pree' told me all game to just throw it up and he'd catch it. That's what he did."
It was an improbable win on a night when not much went right for Merced.
The offense sputtered as Turlock dominated up front.
Running back Stephon Mathis was held to a season-low 56 rushing yards on 13 carries.
Huddleston completed just 3 of 8 passes for 41 yards.
The biggest reason Merced struggled came from 13 flags for 120 penalty yards. Merced was flagged six times for holding.
Turlock was penalized five times for 45 yards. Turlock ran the ball 46 times without one holding call.
"You can't tell me they didn't hold us tonight," Merced coach Rob Scheidt said. "I saw instances of it."
Turlock (3-2, 7-2) had the perfect game plan to beat Merced, pounding the ball with tailback Theron Gallegos (111 yards) and fullback Derek Woods (51 yards).
Turlock had opportunities to make the night more difficult, but could only find the end zone once, and Sean Badiou missed two second-half field goals that would have extended its 10-9 halftime lead.
"I'm proud of our guys because we were so close, but it's disappointing because we were right there," Turlock coach Lance Cornell said.
"If we just make those field goals or finish off those drives..."
Merced's offense had to resort to trick plays, with Bernard Bolden connecting with Kenny Cooper on two long passes.
The first resulted in a 54-yard touchdown and the second helped set up Beavers' touchdown.
"We won the game with a little luck, a little prayer and 'Pree's' good hands," Bolden said.