One after another, Juan Diaz's teammates came over to pat him on the shoulder pads.
The gesture was a symbol of respect for the Merced College freshman, who did his best to play through a tough situation at Don Odishoo Field on Saturday afternoon.
In a season when the Blue Devils can't seem to catch a break, the latest blow could be among the most devastating.
Starting quarterback Brendan Crawford was sacked and suffered a knee injury with five minutes to play in the first quarter against NorCal No. 7 Reedley.
The injury came just days after backup quarterback Jeremy Jacobo left the team, thrusting a third-string Diaz into his first collegiate action.
"I barely had any reps this week," Diaz said. "I've been out the last two weeks with the flu, so I've hardly even practiced.
"I just didn't have any rhythm. It's a tough situation to come in to, but I just tried to do the best I could with it."A relentless Reedley defense didn't make Diaz's debut any easier. MC managed just 110 total yards on 59 plays in a 48-0 Reedley rout.
Reedley (2-2) didn't have any such problems moving the ball. With a big offensive line and a stable of talented running backs, Reedley pounded out 303 rushing yards.
Freshman running back Avery Horn was a big part of that, breaking touchdown runs of 49 and 64 yards in the first quarter. Horn had 127 of his game-high 148 rushing yards on his first four carries to help Reedley take a 21-0 lead less than nine minutes into the game.
"We couldn't wrap up and just couldn't make a tackle when we needed to," linebacker Tim Tisdale said. "Guys were feeling a lot better than last week, but we just didn't play well enough."
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MC head coach Mark Kaanapu attempted to keep things simple for Diaz and allow him to build some confidence with some easy completions. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, Diaz's completions didn't net a lot of big gains.He finished the game 8 of 16 passing for 28 yards and an interception.
To compound MC's offensive struggles, the Blue Devils (2-2) turned the ball over six times.
Reedley scored 14 points off of the turnovers, including a 44-yard fumble return by Dontea Smith that put Reedley up 45-0 in the third quarter.
"This was an eye-opening experience," Diaz said. "It's going to get better, though. I've seen the speed of the game and I'm going to be a little more prepared each time I take the field."
This story was originally published September 28, 2009 9:28 AM.