Merced College

MC allows Fresno City off the ropes

FRESNO -- Tony Lewis knows something now.

When his Merced College football team finally learns to close out games, it can be good.

Just how good?

Scary good.

The Blue Devils gave Fresno City a serious fright on Saturday evening at Ratcliffe Stadium, shocking the sixth-ranked team in the nation with its guts and guile.

Garrett Turner's 13-yard scoring run midway through the third quarter made it 14-14 and had the Blue Devils thinking upset.

"We were playing them tough, going pound for pound, and I really thought we had them right there," Turner said. "We had them on the ropes."

Unfortunately, delivering the knockout blow has been Merced's problem in recent years -- and Saturday was no exception.

Costly penalties and killer turnovers helped the Rams rattle off 21 unanswered points to end the third period -- and eventually escape with a 35-21 win.

Ken Herrington scored two touchdowns and the Rams' two-man system at quarterback -- Bryan Moniz and Derek Shaw -- combined for 279 yards and a score in Fresno's fourth straight win.

Fresno (4-0) has won the last 10 meetings and owns a 17-9 advantage in the all-time series with Merced.

"When you score to make it 14-14 against a team like this, you got to have that killer instinct," Lewis said of team's letdown following Turner's run. "The same thing happened to us against Chabot earlier in the season.

"We got to sense the blood in the water and be like piranhas. At that point in the game, we've got to want to rip people's skin off."

Instead, MC (1-3) fumbled away another potential victory with a series of gaffes that culminated in three Ram touchdowns in two minutes.

Fresno surged back into the lead on a dive by Kevin Swan with 6:38 left in the third.

The drive, which seemed all but over with Fresno staring at a fourth and 10 from its own 43, was prolonged by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that backed MC up against its own end zone.

Five players later, Swan bulled his way in from a yard out to make it 21-14.

Back-to-back fumbles on Merced's next two possessions -- one a bobble by QB Reid Herchenbach

(14 of 31 passing, 121 yards) and the other an onside kick -- helped put the rout in motion.

Fresno scored on both turnovers.

Raymond Neal beat the Blue Devil secondary to the pylon for a 20-yard touchdown, and then Moniz stretched the lead with an 8-yard pass to Erin Banks.

"We had four or five crucial mistakes during that stretch," Lewis said, "and it's like I've been saying all season, you can't make mistakes and expect to win."

Mistakes haunted both teams.

The game featured seven turnovers -- six fumbles and one interception -- many of which came inside or near the red zone.

The Rams defense featured a few familiar names.

Former Chowchilla High standout Caleb Hale led Fresno with nine tackles and two sacks, while Dos Palos alum Lloyd Ferris chipped in with two stops.

Safety Dion Bland -- the 2006 Sun-Star defensive player of the year -- had five tackles, including two on Turner early in the first half.

Bland nearly had a third on his former Merced High teammate, but Turner slipped his ankle tackle and darted into the end zone.

"I was hoping to get one more shot at him in the open field," Bland joked after the game with Turner within earshot. "I hate missing tackles."

Cornerback Sam Toomer was the defensive catalyst for MC for the second straight week.

The sophomore from San Diego backed up his 11-tackle performance in a win over Hartnell with an interception and a fumble recovery.

He also had a 66-yard kickoff return in the third quarter that gave the Blue Devils the ball at the Fresno 29, but that drive ended in a fumble.

James Burns is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2417 or via e-mail at">