State

Merced falls to Laney, fails to reach Graffiti

MERCED -- Reid Herchenbach rolled to his left, buying time with his feet as the final play unfolded down field.

It was a simple comeback route -- a play Merced College had run hundreds of times in practice without so much as a hitch.

The Blue Devils picked the wrong time to be off the mark.

Herchenbach threw across his body toward receiver Don Moorman, who was curling back along the sideline.

Moorman dove to make the catch but was ruled out of bounds -- and three yards short of the first-down marker -- preserving Laney's College's wild 37-30 double-overtime victory at Don Odishoo Field.

Weston Ranch graduate Terjean Saffold scored the go-ahead touchdown on the first series of the second overtime for the Eagles, who captured their first-ever Mid-Empire Conference crown.

"What a great game," Laney coach Jay Uchiumi said. "Both teams slugged it out. It's a shame someone had to lose."

Indeed.

The loss dashed MC's hopes for its first conference championship and bowl berth since 1997.

Instead, the Eagles move on to face Modesto Junior College in the Graffiti Bowl.

"I'm disappointed we lost, but at the same time, a lot of other teams had their seasons end three weeks ago," MC coach Tony Lewis said. "We were here, fighting for a conference championship."

Saffold and Matt Dardeene carried the torch for the Eagles (9-0, 5-0 MEC), which trailed only once all game.

Saffold rushed for 68 yards and scored two touchdowns, and helped Laney build a 14-0 cushion with a 29-yard scoring grab on the first possession of the game.

Dardeene was 23 of 45 for 353 yards and two touchdowns, but his gaffe in the waning seconds of regulation gave the Blue Devils a glimmer of hope.

After a Garrett Turner run made it 27-27 late in the fourth quarter, Dardeene orchestrated Laney's two-minute offense to near-perfection.

He was 3 of 4 on the final drive of regulation, and his 8-yard slant with 13 seconds left moved the ball to the MC 7.

Then Uchiumi got greedy.

Instead of kicking the field goal, he had Dardeene toss a jump ball into the corner of the end zone.

The pass crashed off cornerback Dominique Davis' chest and into the lap of Pedro White, who knelt on it to force overtime.

"We thought we'd take a shot," Uchiumi said. "I guess we wanted to play a little longer."

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