Merced College

Merced College football knocks off previously unbeaten Hartnell

Jacque Harris provided a sure-fire cure to the Merced College football team’s red-zone woes Saturday night.

He made sure they scored before they got there.

The freshman wide receiver caught just two balls, but both went for long touchdowns, including a 49-yard go-ahead score in a 42-28 road victory over previously unbeaten Hartnell, ranked 19th in Northern California.

“We finally put together a complete game,” said coach Bob Casey, whose team heads into its bye week 2-3 overall and 1-0 in the Gold Coast Conference. “We played well in all three phases of the game. We didn’t have a ton of yards, but that’s because our defense and special teams did such a good job controlling field position.

“We passed the ball very efficiently, and we were able to run the ball successfully all game.”

The Blue Devils trailed for only 48 seconds.

Hartnell (4-1, 1-1) scored on its opening drive, but Harris answered on Merced’s second play. He hauled in a 75-yard pass from Juwan Brown to tie the score 7-7.

It was the start of a big game for Brown, who completed 15 of 21 passes for 199 yards, including a career-high four touchdowns.

“We did a good job with our matchups in the secondary,” Casey said. “They brought some pressure, but it seemed like Juwan had a lot of confidence back there. He kept making the right choices.”

The hard running of Josh Stevens (24 carries, 122 yards) helped keep the Panthers’ defense honest and set up the Blue Devils’ play action. His two first-half rushing touchdowns sent Merced into intermission tied 21-21.

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Hartnell had little answer for the Blue Devils’ defense after the break. Led by Justin Aguilar’s 12 tackles and 4.5 sacks, Merced forced three turnovers and sacked Panthers quarterback Michael Turner eight times.

Brown put away the game in the fourth quarter, finding Harris (124 receiving yards) for a 49-yard touchdown strike and then hooking up with Devante Archer for a 7-yard score.

“It was a good team win on the road,” Casey said. “Now we can try and get a little healthier during the bye and get something worked on before we play Monterey.”

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