The tears told the story.
Eddie Beavers kneeled down near midfield overcome with emotion.
Bernard Bolden had to be consoled by family and friends.
Merced's season was suddenly over.
For the second straight year, Stockton St. Mary's came into Stadium '76 and walked away with a win in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs.
The final score: St. Mary's 35, Merced 24.
This one hurt.
"This is hard to take," Bolden said. "We had big dreams of moving on.
"Unfortunately, we had to go through St. Mary's. Unfortunately, we didn't win.
"Right now, I just have defeat going through my mind."
Bolden and company just couldn't find a way to slow down St. Mary's offense.
Quarterback Cody Vaz shredded Merced's secondary by completing 19 of 23 passes for 248 yards.
Running backs Ray Guyton and Maurice Howze combined for 160 yards and three touchdowns.
"My biggest concern was stopping the run," said Merced coach Rob Scheidt, whose team finished with an 11-2 record.
"It's hard trying to get in and out of modes. We had problems getting the right personnel in the game.
"You have to give St. Mary's credit. They were really patient with their running game."
Merced definitely had its moments.
Stephon Mathis and Allen Huddleston each scored touchdowns to give Merced a 14-6 lead early in the second quarter.
The Merced defense came up with big turnovers with a Bolden interception and Andrew Mendoza fumble recovery in the first half.
However, penalties continued to plague Merced, including six false start penalties in the first half alone.
"I felt like it was always first-and-15 or second-and-20," Scheidt said.
"It makes it really hard on us. We had a couple plays, but instead of making a first down, it was fourth-and-short."
Still, Merced had a shot to take control of the game in the second quarter.
With Merced ahead 14-12, Huddleston threw to a wide open Kenny Cooper on fourth down only to see Cooper slip and fall.
St. Mary's (11-2) needed just four plays to march down the field for a touchdown.
Jordan Davis scored on a 12-yard touchdown run and ran in a two-point conversion to give St. Mary's a 20-14 lead.
Merced never regained the lead.
"There's no mistaking it, we recognize it as a tremendous accomplishment," said St. Mary's coach Tony Franks, whose team will play Pleasant Grove for the section title next week.
"We know every time we come down here it's going to be a battle. They've got some really great players."
Mathis finished with 111 yards and two touchdowns. His second score pulled Merced within 29-24 with 10:43 left in the game.
However, Vaz and St. Mary's wouldn't be denied.
The Oregon State-bound quarterback's 5-yard touchdown pass to Louie Lechich all but sealed St. Mary's second straight section title game appearance.
Merced was forced to deal with a heart-breaking loss.
"We're 42-7 the last four years," Scheidt said. "That's hard to do. It's hard to get to this game.
"I don't think people realize how hard it is to get to the section finals. I'm very proud of this group."
For good reason.
"I can't believe it's over," Bolden said. "I've been playing with most of these guys since I was 9 years old.
"They're all like my brothers. It's real hurtful to see you're family members crying right now."
At Merced College
St. Mary's 6 14 6 9 -- 35
Merced 7 10 0 7 -- 24
SM -- Maurice Howze 9 run (kick failed)
MER -- Stephon Mathis 18 run (D.J. Cherf kick)
MER -- Allen Huddleston 3 run (Cherf kick)
SM -- Ray Guyton 14 run (kick failed)
SM -- Jordan Davis 12 run (Davis run)
M -- Cherf 35 FG
SM -- Guyton 5 run (run failed)
SM -- Louie Lchich 22 FG
MER -- Mathis 6 run (Cherf kick)
SM -- Lechich 5 pass from Cody Vaz (pass failed)
Records: St. Mary's 11-2; Merced 11-2.