Protecting just a four-point lead, the Buhach Colony High defense had been pushed back inside its 20-yard line with less than a minute left in the game.
Merced was just 18 yards away from ending the Thunder’s run at a perfect season and potentially halting their bid for a Central California Conference championship.
Buhach Colony needed a play.
Linebacker Jaylen Torres and defensive lineman Tomas Sandoval delivered just in time. Torres blitzed on fourth down and grabbed the legs of Bears quarterback Seth Scheidt and Sandoval came in to finish off the sack as the Thunder celebrated a hard-earned 26-22 win over the Bears on Friday night at Dave Honey Stadium.
“It’s fourth down, you have to give it everything you have,” Sandoval said. “It was a big relief to get that win. We all played our butts off. We knew this was going to be a tough game coming in.”
The Thunder improved to 7-0 on the season and 3-0 in the CCC.
Merced (3-4 overall, 2-1 CCC) came in thinking upset and battled the undefeated Thunder until the end.
The Bears defense matched the Buhach Colony physicality all night and the offense used just about every trick play in the playbook.
Merced scored touchdowns on a flea-flicker to help come back from a 13-0 deficit. Scheidt took the pitch back from Desmond Thomas and found Cameron Frazier for a 32-yard touchdown pass to cut the BC lead to 13-7 with 2 minutes and 12 seconds left in the first half.
After a quick turnover, Scheidt connected with a Raheem Choyce on a 16-yard touchdown pass to give the Bears a 14-13 lead at the half.
Merced used another trick play, scoring a 30-yard touchdown on a double-pass as A.J. Cheeseborough caught a pass from Scheidt behind the line of scrimmage and then fired down field to Thompson for the touchdown and a 22-19 lead with 9:53 left in the game.
“We poured them all out,” said Merced coach Rob Scheidt. “ The second trick play we used we haven’t run in a while.”
Buhach Colony’s play-makers came up big when called upon.
Trey Paster turned around just in time to catch a pass from Oscar Smallwood and then worked his way into the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown that gave the Thunder a 19-14 lead midway through the third quarter.
Youlas Dickson broke free for a 40-yard touchdown run that gave BC a 26-22 lead with 8:53 left in the game.
Other than Dickson’s big run, the Thunder’s running game was held in check by the Bears’ defense. Smallwood threw two touchdowns, including a 65-yard pass to Jalon Jackson in the first half.
“They did enough up front to make us throw,” Navarra said. ‘It wasn’t because of a lack of effort on our part. They basically forced us to throw.”
Merced wasn’t satisfied just being in the game. The Bears left disappointed they couldn’t pull out a win.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Rob Scheidt said. “As a coach, obviously you want to win every game, but the effort was great. We executed some things well. We just made mistakes tonight that in a game like this cost us the opportunity to win.”