Huddleston keys Merced victory in conference openener against Los Banos

Allen Huddleston was the first to admit he’d struggled the previous two weeks.

But Friday night against Los Banos, Huddleston definitely took a step in the right direction.

A lot of steps, in fact.

The Merced quarterback used his legs to rack up 107 yards and two touchdowns to help his team outlast Los Banos 35-28 at Merced College.

"I didn’t want to go into the game thinking what I was going to do," Huddleston said. "I wanted to take what was open and take what the defense gave me.

I wanted to be smart with my throws.”

Los Banos spent the bulk of the night chasing the fleet-footed senior all over Don Odishoo Field.

He scored on touchdown runs of 4 and 32 yards in the first half.

“Needless to say, Allen was frustrated this week,” Merced coach Rob Scheidt said. “He’s such a great athlete. Anytime you have an athlete frustrated, he’s going to want to come out and do his best.”

Huddleston and his teammates seemed to be in control of the game in the second quarter, when Nathan Mayfield’s blocked punt set up a 16-yard touchdown run by Stephon Mathis.

Merced led 21-7 with 2:36 left in the half and LB coach Dennis Stubbs was doing whatever he could just to get the game to halftime."We were flat after the blocked punt," said Stubbs, whose team dropped to 1-1 in the Central California Conference and 3-3 overall. "We were worried. We just prayed we could get to half without Merced getting any more snaps."

Stubbs regrouped his troops at halftime and LB quickly got back in the game.

Sophomore Darron Brown turned in another stellar performance.

The bruising running back finished with 163 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries.

Brown’s 16-yard touchdown cut the lead to 21-14.

Neither team held on to the ball, as the two teams combined for eight turnovers.

Bernard Bolden’s second fumble of the night helped set up Erik Martin’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Max Ornales that tied the game at 21-21. Still, Merced (1-0 CCC, 4-1) had too much firepower.

Mathis finished with 110 yards and two touchdowns.

His second TD capped a 15-play, six-minute drive that put Merced ahead 28-21 with 1:17 left in the third quarter.

Despite giving up huge chunks of yards on the ground, the Merced defense came up big against LB’s passing attack.

Los Banos’ Rubal Sangha scored a touchdown, but the star receiver was held by Bernard Bolden and Huddleston to just two catches for 17 yards.Linebacker Tyler Johnson and Huddleston also came up with interceptions at crucial times.

“I saw the quarterback roll out and my D-lineman Joe Tejada hit him,” Johnson said. “The ball was just floating in the air.”

Merced marched down to extend the lead to 35-21 on Nathan Mayfield’s 5-yard touchdown run.

Los Banos eventually just ran out of time.

“We tried,” Stubbs said. “I knew Huddleston would be the key.

“He was back there running around. We tried to change some things, but that opened some lanes for Mathis.”