Merced College

Merced College football: Tony knew all along

SACRAMENTO -- Tony Lewis was right after all.

All season long, the Merced College football coach has stuck to his guns, vowing his young and unproven squad would win a big game, and better yet...

A championship.

Just wait and see, he'd tell his hecklers.

"It's like I've been saying, people (outside this program) don't really know," Lewis said. "I've been doing this for a long time now, and we felt like we could be pretty good this year.

"We just kept telling the kids to believe. Believe in the concepts we're teaching and believe in the team. If you do that, we'll have a shot."

No one's questioning him now.

Reid Herchenbach threw two touchdown passes and engineered a wild second-half comeback as the Blue Devils upset No. 13 Sacramento City 32-27 on Saturday at Hughes Stadium.

Herchenbach was 15 of 26 for a season-high 241 yards, but just as impressive was his turnover count.

Zero.

The win sets up a Week 10 clash with unbeaten Oakland Laney at Don Odishoo Field for the Mid-Empire Conference championship.

A win would give the Blue Devils a share of the crown and the No. 1 overall seed for the conference, meaning that MC -- not state-ranked Sacramento, Siskiyous or Laney -- would get top billing for a bowl invite.

The Blue Devils (3-1 MEC, 4-5 overall) haven't won a conference title since they were members of the now-defunct Valley Conference in 1997.

"They believed in themselves and that's what is so gratifying about this win," said Lewis, whose team has won three of four since a 1-4 start.

"Now we get to play for all the marbles."

It looked bleak at halftime, though.

Lewis' troops trailed by four at the intermission, but climbed into the lead for good with a 15-0 spurt in the third quarter.

"I told the guys, 'Hey, this is it,' " Lewis said. "The freshmen, they'll get another shot. But for the sophomores, they were playing for their careers."

His words struck a chord with Herchenbach, who started the third quarter with a 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Cameron Graham.

The sophomore ace stretched the lead to 11 on the final series of the third quarter with a pair of tough throws.

He checked down to a streaking Vincent Wilkins on a second-and-long play. The freshman fullback -- not known for either his hands or speed -- rumbled all the way to the Sacramento 45.

Moments later, Garrett Turner (20 rushes for 110 yards, two TDs) plunged in from 2 yards out.

The Blue Devils botched the extra-point attempt but Herchenbach somehow rescued the play.

Instinctively, he picked up the loose ball and began to buy time with his feet.

He scrambled to his left, right and as far back as the 25-yard line until finally he spotted kicker Adrian Trevino in the end zone to make it 25-14.

Trevino, who nailed a 26-yard field goal earlier in the game, wasn't done.

After Amahd Lewis' 55-yard kickoff return pulled Sac City (2-2, 4-5) within five late, Trevino was roughed up on punt with a minute left in regulation.

The penalty allowed Merced's offense to run out the clock.

"It was a hard game and an interesting game, too," Lewis said. "It was like old-time football out there, and I'm proud of how the kids fought hard."

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

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