Bryan Sims couldn't stand to see Darrion Gray sprawled out on the turf, writhing in pain.
Merced's backup running back went down midway through the second quarter last Friday -- clutching his knee -- in a runaway victory at Madera.
So imagine Sims' displeasure when starting back Stephon Mathis was aided off the field by teammates a quarter later.
"I was shocked to see them both go down," Sims said. "It was sort of surreal. They're like brothers to me, so it was pretty disappointing.
"I knew then that I had
to step up and do what I can
to help this team win."
Sims did more than just step in and fill the void.
He stepped out, too.
Sims rushed for 87 yards on nine carries and punctuated Merced's 50-0 rout at Madera with a 2-yard scoring run.
He'll see the bulk of the carries again tonight when Merced hosts small-school power Sonora in its home opener at Don Odishoo Field.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
Merced is ranked No. 24 in the latest CalHiSports all-division state rankings, while Sonora owns one of the section's longest playoff streaks with five straight appearances.
It has the hype of another heavyweight bout for Merced -- its third such contest in as many weeks.
"They're a very good football team. They do a lot of things well," Merced coach
Rob Scheidt said. "They've got more speed at the quarterback and wingback positions, which I think they like."
Scheidt, meanwhile, is scrambling to solidify his
Gray was untouched when he tweaked his right knee. The shifty back was making a routine cut behind the line of scrimmage when it gave out.
He had an MRI Wednesday.
Mathis had an MRI on his right knee and ankle on Monday and has been cleared to resume light jogging.
But he won't play.
Scheidt won't risk it.
"The biggest concern right now is his knee," Scheidt said. "The ankle seems OK. He's been moving around pretty good on it."
Mathis was injured after getting twisted up at the bottom of the pile following an 8-yard run on Merced's second play of the second half.
Merced was leading 44-0.
"It was a situation where you start thinking about getting other guys in, but it was still just our second play," Scheidt said. "We're not 10 deep at the tailback positions like USC.
We still had to be creative.
"Hindsight is 20-20. Had I known this was going to happen, I would have got him out at halftime."
Sims is willing and able
to shoulder the load.
The 6-foot, 190-pound senior has been a running back in the system since the day he stepped foot on campus as a freshman.
He understands the playbook and all its schemes, and more importantly, he's got added motivation to perform well.
"Every game is going to be hard from here on out," Sims said. "Everyone wants to knock us off the top. We've got to work and keep it going.
"I'm running for them," he added, alluding to Mathis and Gray. "I've got to make sure their injuries weren't in vain."
While Scheidt will lean on Sims, he could give Sonora multiple looks tonight.
Kameron Huddleston, Nathan Mayfield and Bernard Bolden could also see time in the backfield.
Each brings their own sizzle.
Huddleston might be Merced's quickest option, while Mayfield likes to move laterally, slashing and cutting his way up the field.
Bolden, a proven defensive back and kick returner, is the athlete in the bunch.
"We've had to scramble a bit and use players in positions they're not used to playing," Scheidt said. "But I'm confident in all of our guys.
"Obviously, we're preparing Bryan to have some success this week, but other guys have to step up."
James Burns is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2417 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.