Rivalry games highlight final week of regular season, including Bloss Bowl in Atwater.

The Bloss Bowl has never seen high stakes like this.

Bloss Bowl XIV will be just the fourth time during the rivalry that both Atwater (7-2 overall, 4-1 Central California Conference) and Buhach Colony (9-0, 5-0 CCC) enter the crosstown matchup with a winning record.

That means there are more than bragging rights on the line when both teams square off at Dave Honey Stadium on Friday night at 7.

The Falcons can clinch a share of the CCC championship with the win over the Thunder. The game also effects playoff seeding. Atwater is looking to earn a home game in the first round of the playoffs and the Thunder are hoping for a top four seed and a first-round bye.

SUN-STAR PHOTO BY MARCI STENBERG The Bloss Bowl trophy goes to the winner of the Atwater/Buhach game on Friday night. marci stenberg Merced Sun-Star

“We’re coming in at 9-0, but this is not the game you want to lose,” said Buhach Colony coach Kevin Navarra. “Bragging rights are big with so many of these kids playing each other in other sports. A lot of them play seven-on-seven together. They play baseball. The kids all know each other.”

Atwater coach Seneca Ybarra was flooding with texts from friends, alumni and former players after the Falcons defeated Merced for the first time in nine years last week.

The Falcons are fired up for another rivalry game, especially since Atwater has been on the short end of the all-time series against Buhach Colony with the Thunder holding a 9-4 record.

“It’s been fun,” Ybarra said. “Our kids were ready to play this game on Monday coming off the Merced win.”

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Buhach Colony running back Anthony Berry prepares to stiff arm an El Capitan defender during the Thunder’s 64-0 win over the Gauchos on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019 at Dave Honey Stadium. Shawn Jansen

Ybarra says the Bloss Bowl is special because of the relationships between the kids on both teams. The team features a lot of cousins playing each other. It features friends who have grown up together facing each other.

“That’s one of the jokes I have with Youlas Dickson,” Navarra said. “It’s like ‘how many cousins do you have other there?’”

Navarra coached some of the Falcons assistant coaches when they were in high school and played with another Atwater assistant in Bob Vallado.

“Atwater is a smaller town,” Ybarra said. “Merced has three high schools now. Here, all these kids went to junior high together. All these kids workout together in the summer. They train together. They all know each other.”

The game features some of the brightest stars in Merced County.

Buhach Colony’s Youlas Dickson has been a big play waiting to happen with his seven kick returns for scores this year. The senior has also rushed for 511 yards and eight touchdowns.

Dickson teams with Cal-bound senior Trey Paster to give the Thunder a formidable secondary. Anthony Berry has also added 513 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.

Atwater features running back Charles Jackson, who is on the verge of a 1,000-yard season with 990 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. Quarterback Julius Peacock is a dual threat, passing for 1,394 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushing for 774 yards and four touchdowns.

What will the atmosphere be like on Friday with a packed stadium?

“The term I’ve used is electric,” Navarra said. “Atwater has always done a good of bringing their own energy. They have one of the best cheering sections and leadership groups. I know our leadership group is hoping to match their energy.

“This is definitely the biggest Bloss Bowl to date. There’s just a lot more at stake this year.”

The Merced High football team holds up the Mayor’s Cup trophy after defeating Golden Valley 41-7 on Friday night at Veterans Stadium in Merced, Calif. Eric Foss

Battle for Mayor’s Cup

The crosstown rivalry in Merced has gone the Bears’ way 13 years in a row. Merced holds a 17-8 edge in the all-time series against Golden Valley.

Despite pedestrian records, the Bears (4-5, 3-2 CCC) and the Cougars (4-5, 2-3 CCC) both look to be in position to make the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs.

A win tonight could earn a home game in the first round for either team.

The Cougars played Buhach Colony last week without running back Jabari Phillips, linebacker Ryan Nunes and receiver/defensive back Avery Townsel.

The Cougars come in losing three of their last four as they’ve battled through injuries.

Merced is looking to bounce back after a tough 42-39 loss to Atwater in last week’s Santa Fe Bowl.

Other rivalry games tonight include Mariposa at Le Grand and Los Banos at Pacheco.