Sports

Steve Cameron: Maybe Merced needed a bad night at the office

Back to the drawing board, eh?

"We looked terrible, and we've got two weeks to fix this or we're in trouble," grumbled Merced wide receiver Jarrett Sparks.

"We didn't get throws made, we didn't catch the ball, we committed a whole bunch of penalties and we couldn't pick up a blitz. That's just about everything."

Almost.

The one thing that Sparks didn't mention was that despite all those offensive follies on Friday night, Merced actually bumped its record to 3-0 with a 16-6 win over Sonora.

"Our defense is awesome, and they saved us," said quarterback Brandon Garcia, who endured a two-hour nightmare -- 4 of 16 passing, two sacks and four interceptions. "We really struggled and the defense bailed us out."

In fact, the defense outscored Sonora all by itself.

A fumble recovery just before halftime set up a George Gutierrez field goal to give Merced a 9-6 lead, and then cornerback Darrius Pierce clinched the game with an interception return for a touchdown.

"The defense really took over," admitted coach Rob Scheidt. "You hate to say you expect that, because we have to improve in all phases of the game, but we do have a great defense.

"When it got late in the fourth quarter, everyone was anxious to score again, probably just so we could feel like we had some rhythm on offense -- but really, with just a 10-point lead and all the crazy things that can happen, I wanted the game to end."

Once the fat lady shrieked and Merced had snuck off into the night still unbeaten, Scheidt and his staff could begin working on a serious puzzle.

As Sparks pointed out, they have two weeks to sort things out before Pitman comes calling in what will be a crucial conference opener.

Scheidt would never say such a thing, of course, but Pitman might be the only team in the CCC with enough talent to give Merced a game.

And now everyone and his dog knows how the visitors will try to control things.

"We couldn't pick up a blitz (against Sonora)," Sparks said. "We didn't do anything to stop it and Brandon was put in some terrible situations.

"Anybody who looks at a tape of this game will think they can blitz us right out of our offense."

Well, yeah.

It sure looked that way.

Scheidt pointed out that his offense put together an awful combination of errors -- everything from 11 penalties for 115 yards to poor decisions by Garcia and even a couple of flat-out drops by the usually sure-handed Sparks.

"Maybe Jarrett was a little nervous because the recruiters from Cal were here," Scheidt said. "But hey, all our guys are going to have to deal with things like that if we're going to be anything like the football team we hope to be."

And the Sonora blitz -- which will be imitated down the road?

"It shouldn't be a problem if we execute properly," Scheidt said. "In fact, we have another package of plays which can help turn things around, but we haven't worked on it enough to throw them out there with an offense that's struggling -- in a game that wasn't completely wrapped up."

If you're a glass-half-full kind of person, Merced's offensive stinker on Friday could be a blessing in disguise.

The kids get to sharpen their games and eliminate errors without the pain of a defeat.

They've got those two long weeks to lie in wait for Pitman, and running back Stephon Mathis could be healthy and rarin' to go by then.

Sonora will be nothing more than a classroom session in the rear-view mirror.

Hey, sometimes it's OK to be ugly.

Steve Cameron is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at scameron@mercedsun-star.com

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