CERES — It's safe to say that almost nothing had gone right for Beyer High School's football team prior to Thursday night.
The spread offense the Patriots were excited to unveil this season went flat when key players left the team either through injury or suspension, and an 0-4 start prompted a complete overhaul of the offense in the recently completed bye week.
Well, the new offense wasn't the reason Beyer escaped Ceres High with a 17-14 victory, Let's just say that the first breaks to go the Patriots' way this season came giftwrapped from the Bulldogs.
Ceres failed to execute two punt snaps in the game's final 2 minutes, 43 seconds, and the twin miscues led to 10 Beyer points, including a 35-yard field goal by Vince Camarda as time expired to give the Patriots the improbable win.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Merced Sun-Star
"I'm excited for our guys," said Beyer coach Rich Alkire. "Things haven't gone our way early and then we were really banged up. We felt like tonight we were a little healthier and it was time for something good to happen to this team."
Ceres (1-4) led 14-7 on the strength of junior quarterback Nick Welsh, who was making his first varsity start. He threw a touchdown pass and ran 21 yards for the score that gave the Bulldogs a 14-7 lead early in the third quarter.
But Welsh went down with leg cramps late in the third quarter and Ceres was unable to move the ball in its final four possessions.
Still, the Bulldogs had a chance to ice the victory, taking over at their own 38 with 3:54 remaining in the game. Two first downs would have killed the clock, but three runs lost six yards, and the ensuing punt snap sailed over the punter's head, leading to a blocked punt and Beyer taking over at the 9.
Two plays later, quarterback McKay Marshall snuck over from the 1, and Camarda's conversion tied the game 14-14 with 1:47 remaining.
Ceres, trying to move the ball downfield for its own winning score, managed only to run three plays, and took a fourth-down time out with 8.8 seconds remaining its its own 14 to avoid a delay of game penalty.
This time, the punt snap was low, and while the kick got off, it was a low line drive that was scooped up by senior linebacker Jake Dowd at the 25 and returned to the 18.
"We were screaming for him to go down, but Jake Dowd is one of our senior leaders and he has the mentality that he just wants to run over guys," Alkire said. "He got down just in time."
The clock ran out as Dowd was tackled, but the officials met and decided to put three-tenths of a second back on the clock.
"I was thinking that we would run a play because we haven't really kicked field goals in a game this whole season," said Camarda, who never before had tried a field goal in a varsity game. "Right then the coach ran up and said 'Let's kick a field goal,' and my heart just dropped. I was so nervous."
The jitters didn't show, as Camarda drilled the field goal through the middle of the uprights with ample distance to spare, setting off the Patriots' first victory celebration of the season.
"I was thinking about what play to run, and my dad, who's a coach for us, starts yelling for the field goal team," Alkire said.
"We hadn't had a field goal attempt all season, but Vince cleared that kick easily. It's real exciting to win that way."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.