Sports

Steve Cameron: Chaotic night comes down to experience

The summary was identical from both sides.

Which is slightly amazing, because it seemed there were about a half-million turning points in Merced’s 35-28 victory over Los Banos.

The manic Friday evening at Don Odishoo Field produced eight turnovers — and a whole lot more plays that were nearly disasters.

Between the two teams, they managed 675 yards of total offense and often looked magnificent.

But each also committed some of the silliest sins in football.

With just over a minute to play and Los Banos out of timeouts, Merced only needed to watch clock tick — yet ran a pitch play that Stephon Mathis fumbled.

And recovered.

A turnover at that point could have led to a colossal embarrassment.

Which wouldn’t have been all that shocking, given everything else that had happened.

It seemed like we were served a season’s worth of gut-check football in just 48 minutes.

Yet if you believe the participants, the outcome could be reduced to just a couple of factors.

Yep, two.

The first was stage fright — or lack of it on the Merced side.

“I think maybe our guys have been in games like this before and it helped us at some key moments,” said Merced coach Rob Scheidt.

“They’ve been through all this kind of pressure quite a few times.”

True enough, Merced’s stars have been hanging around showdowns and section playoffs for what seems like forever.

Los Banos boss Dennis Stubbs noticed, as well.

“Seniors,” he said. “Look at all the Merced kids who made the big plays tonight.

“They were all seniors.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys who are playing big roles and they haven’t been on this stage before.

“There were times in the game when I thought that showed a little bit.”

Scheidt and Stubbs also agreed that one particular senior made a massive difference between winning and losing.

Merced quarterback Allen Huddleston played perhaps the most effective game of his career, hitting several big passes to keep drives alive and terrorizing Los Banos with his ability to dash for big yardage whenever needed.

Huddleston carried the ball 14 times for 107 yards, sometimes on broken pass plays but often on called sweeps and draws.

Crucially in a one-touchdown game, Huddleston was not sacked and never harmed his own cause with wild, non-productive scrambles.

“I thought he was great,” Scheidt said. “He made a lot of really big plays and ran things under control.

“He really understood what was needed tonight and did it — instead of trying to force anything.”

Stubbs admitted before the game that he feared Huddleston’s quick feet and potential for big plays — and the coach’s worries were fully justified.

“I really was afraid he’d do just what he did,” said Stubbs, who sought out Huddleston to congratulate him after the game.

“He didn’t make any big mistakes, and he’s so fast and hard to contain that it was a problem all night.

“Allen hurt us on so many key plays when we needed a stop and just couldn’t get to him.”

Big-game experience and a mobile quarterback who came up trumps.

Was it really that simple?

Well, opposing superstars Bernard Bolden and Rubal Sangha each did some exciting things — but Bolden fumbled twice and Sangha dropped what should have been a glorious touchdown pass.

The battle in the trenches was close to even, as well.

Merced ran the ball successfully but couldn’t produce a knockout punch on the ground.

Ditto Los Banos, which bashed away with powerhouse sophomore Darron Brown and rolled up yards of its own.

There were draws all over the field.

Except...

Merced knows how to win this kind of game, and had the quarterback with that extra step.

When both coaches see the same thing, heck...

Who am I to disagree?

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

  Comments