The Merced High defense has been playing near a championship level most of the season.
The Bears defense dominated again, forcing five turnovers and limiting No. 11 Beyer (7-4) to one late touchdown in a 20-6 win over the Patriots in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs.
The No. 6 seeded Bears (6-5) will advance to the quarterfinals next week against No. 3 Casa Roble (7-3), which had a first-round bye.
“We’re just a hard-working group,” said Merced linebacker Cody Chapman. “We play as a team and a family.”
Merced senior Misael Aguirre had two interceptions, including a long return that helped set up the Bears’ second score late in the first half.
Fellow senior Alfonso Gary intercepted a Ethan Phompong pass early in the first quarter. The Bears defense also produced two fumbles.
“Our defense was great tonight,” said Merced coach Rob Scheidt. “We were down a few guys and then lose a Mike linebacker and have another guy step up. They just kept making plays.”
The Bears defense helped keep almost the entire first half on Beyer’s half of the field.
The Patriots didn’t cross the 50-yard line until the final minute of the first half. Merced’s average starting position for its six first-half possessions was the Beyer 41-yard line.
After watching three first-half drives stall deep in Patriots’ territory, Merced finally cashed in on the great field position as Seth Scheidt connected with A.J. Cheeseborough for a 20-yard touchdown pass to cap a three-play, 58-yard drive that gave the Bears a 7-0 lead with 2:46 left in the first half.
Aguirre then set up another score late in the second quarter when he returned an interception 40 yards and was tackled on Beyer’s 1-yard line.
One play later, Desmond Thompson scored the first of his two touchdowns to extend the Merced lead to 14-0.
“We had so many opportunities and we couldn’t take advantage of it,” Rob Scheidt said.
The Patriots offense had more success in the second half with Anthony Baker moving to quarterback. Baker ran for 66 yards on 12 carries. Sean Perkins added 115 yards on 13 carries, including a 20-yard touchdown run that cut the Bears’ lead to 206- with 4:11 left in the game.
The Patriots were playing without their top weapon in sophomore Darius Murphy, who was sidelined with an ankle injury.
“Murphy’s a special, special talent,” Beyer coach Greg Bockman said. “We were also down a couple lineman. (Merced) is a tough football team. They are well coached and disciplined.”
The loss ends what Bockman described as his most memorable season after taking a team that finished 0-10 to a Western Athletic Conference title.
“You take over an 0-10 program and people say if you win one or two games it’s such an improvement,” Bockman said. “These guys are league champs. I’m never going to forget this season.”
The Bears advance to play another week.
“I’m happy to be 6-5 and we get to work another week with our young guys,” Rob Scheidt said. “It’s all gravy from here.”