The start of the playoffs is almost like the beginning of the new season for high school football teams.
The stakes are high. You win or your season is over.
Ten of the 16 Merced area teams have qualified for the playoffs and seven of them will be in action on Friday night. Buhach Colony (10-0), Hilmar (9-1) and Mariposa (6-4) all have first-round byes and will begin their postseason runs next week.
The playoffs will feature five of the six Merced Union High School District teams with Buhach Colony, Atwater, Merced, Golden Valley and Livingston all advancing to the postseason.
Here’s a look at all seven games involving area teams happening on Friday night.
No. 12 Kimball (5-5) at No. 5 Atwater (7-3)
The Falcons are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2013 and host a postseason game for the first time since 1998. The 1998 team made a third consecutive run to a Sac-Joaquin Section championship game.
It looks like Atwater will be without starting quarterback Julius Peacock unless his hamstring improves before Friday night. The junior injured his hamstring late in the third quarter against Buhach Colony last week.
“It’s not good,” said Falcons coach Seneca Ybarra. “We’re trying to get information from but he’s never pulled his hamstring before. When you haven’t done it before it’s hard to know what you can and can’t do. If he was a pocket passer, it wouldn’t be as much of a problem.”
Peacock threw for 1,431 yards and 15 touchdowns and also ran for 773 yards and four scores.
Anthony Diaz will take over at quarterback against Kimball.
The Jaguars averaged 31 points per game this season, but they’ve also given up 34 points per game.
No. 11 Beyer (7-3) at No. 6 Merced (5-5)
These two teams used to play every year when Beyer was part of the Central California Conference. Merced defeated the Patriots in the first round of the Division III playoffs 44-22 in 2016.
The Bears have been led by their defense, which has surrendered just 20 points per game.
This will be step up in competition for the Patriots, which won the Western Athletic Conference championship after finishing 0-10 last season.
The Bears have been led offensively by senior running back Desmond Thompson, who has rushed for 1,035 yards and 15 touchdowns on 171 carries.
No. 13 Golden Valley (4-6) at No. 4 Sierra (7-3)
The Cougars have been banged up all season, losing six starters on defense. The Cougars hope to get Avery Townsel and Ryan Nunes back in some capacity this week.
Offensive lineman Jamarcus Phillips has been moved to running back to replace his injured twin brother Jabari Phillips.
“Nunes is having an MRI on Friday, Avery has a doctor’s appointment and Jabari thinks he can play with a cast on his hand, but we’ll see,” said Golden Valley coach Rick Martinez. “We’re trying to plug the holes, but it’s tough.”
Sierra is led by Kimoni Stanley and his 1,295 yards and 24 touchdowns.
If Golden Valley could pull the upset it could set up a quarterfinal rematch with Atwater.
No. 12 Los Banos (5-5) at No. 5 Woodland (7-3).
The Tigers have the longest road trip in the first round of the playoffs in the Sac-Joaquin Section with a 146-mile trip to Woodland.
Los Banos features two explosive offensive weapons in running Justin Incaprera (1,620 rushing yards, 20 touchdowns) and receiver Landon Ramos (1,022 receiving yards, nine touchdowns).
The Wolves feature the trio of quarterback Zachary Davis and running backs Mason Thomas and Anthony O’Canas, who have combined for 1,839 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Los Banos is making its sixth straight playoff appearance and has advanced to the second round for the fifth time during that stretch.
No. 11 Livingston (6-4) at No. 6 Rosemont (7-2)
The Wolves are making their first playoff appearance since 2011 and just the sixth time in school history.
Quarterback Rocklin Baptista and receiver Cooper Winton has been a productive duo for the Livingston offense. Baptista has thrown for 1,771 yards and 24 touchdowns. Winton has hauled in 46 catches for 908 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Wolverines are led by Zion Gedeon, who has rushed for 1,323 yards and 15 touchdowns.
No. 5 Big Valley Christian (6-4) at No. 4 Le Grand (5-5)
This is a rematch from earlier this season won by the Bulldogs 41-28.
The Lions lost star running back Javyn Drobnick for the season in that matchup. Andrew Contreras has carried the load the rest of the way and has rushed for 837 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Le Grand sophomore Aaron Martinez has passed for 1,651 yards and 15 touchdowns. Senior Michael Dinkins has caught 49 balls for 886 yards and 10 touchdowns.
No. 14 Liberty (4-6) at No. 3 Dos Palos (9-1)
Broncos sophomore Trent Calvert has had a record-setting season in leading Dos Palos to a West Sierra League championship.
Calvert eclipsed two big names in the Broncos record book. His 30 touchdown passes broke the old record of 28 set by Mike Van Worth in 1999. His 2,318 passing yards broke Mike Sparks’ record of 2,106 yards in 1971.
Dos Palos has averaged 36 points per game this season, including 109 points in its last two games.