Sports

Let the hype begin. The long awaited showdown between Merced, Buhach Colony is here.

The Merced Bears take the field during a game against Madera at Veterans Stadium on the campus of Golden Valley High School in Merced, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. The Bears beat the Coyotes 63-35.
The Merced Bears take the field during a game against Madera at Veterans Stadium on the campus of Golden Valley High School in Merced, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. The Bears beat the Coyotes 63-35. akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

Buhach Colony coach Kevin Navarra has already been fielding phone calls from former players wishing him good luck this week.

Everybody knows the Central California Conference championship will be on the line when the Thunder (5-1, 2-0 CCC) head to Veterans Stadium on Friday night to square off with undefeated Merced (6-0, 2-0 CCC).

“I think the kids are excited,” said Navarra, whose team dispatched of El Capitan 53-12 on Friday night. “I think the kids at school will be excited. Many of them have friends on both teams. Merced was expected to be good this year. We were expected to do well this year. I think when you put all this together it creates the perfect storm.”

Both teams entered the season as the co-favorites to win the CCC and neither team has disappointed. They’ve both navigated their way through difficult nonconference schedules and both teams have opened conference play with two blowout wins.

Since the start of the season, it’s as though both teams have been on a collision course for a huge matchup on Oct. 5.

Even though both teams will still have three games remaining after Friday night, they will both be heavily favored the rest of the way. That’s why this week’s matchup is considered a defacto CCC championship.

“This is high school football,” said Merced coach Rob Scheidt, whose team is coming off a bye and have had two weeks to prepare for the Thunder. “For the kids, this is one opportunity to play in a big game. You want the atmosphere to be electric. You want your guys to create great memories so they can look back and remember the excitement in the crowd and the energy on the field.”

Both teams have racked up a bunch of lopsided wins this season, but they’ve gone about it in different ways.

Buhach Colony has relied on a strong defense and a power running game to pound their opponents into submission. The Thunder have four players with over 300 yards rushing in John Buttrey, Joshua Goodman, Youlas Dickson and Owen Thomas.

“Our defense is built to defend the spread,” Scheidt said. “We’ve done a pretty good job although we didn’t play our best game against Downey. It’s been a focus of our team and it helps that we see it every day in practice. This is a new dynamic because what Buhach Colony does well is run the ball between the tackles. Our we good enough to defend that type of offense?

“That’s going to be a big test for us. Our O-line is going against one of the better defensive lines we’ve seen. We’re also going to see a lot of man-to-man coverage. We’re going to have to be able to win those one-on-ones.”

The Thunder haven’t won a CCC championship since winning three in a row from 2010-2012.

The Bears are looking for their first title since winning three in a row from 2013-2015.

Merced has opened with six consecutive wins behind an explosive offense that has produced 309 points. The Bears’ two quarterbacks Dhameer Warren and Junior Garcia have combined to throw for 1,677 yards and 22 touchdowns to go along with just two interceptions.

“I think this year, particularly with this Merced team, I just see a lot of weapons,” Navarra said. “They have a lot of variety. Dhameer brings an explosiveness, not just at the quarterback position, but the running back position and the receiver position. The challenge is to contain that explosiveness.”

Scheidt is spending the bulk of his Saturday at the wedding and reception of one of his former players. He knows he’ll be around many of his former players and he knows the topic of Friday’s night’s clash with Buhach Colony will come up more than once.

“I’m excited about it,” Scheidt said. “It’s a true reflection of family. We’ll have a ton of past players who will call and ask to be on the sideline for Friday night’s game. We want them there because they were all part of the process.”

Shawn Jansen: 209-385-2462, @MSSsports

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