Merced High School’s high-powered offense has garnered most of the attention early this season.
However, it was the Bears’ defense and special teams coming up with the big plays when needed as Merced held on to defeat Clovis North 32-25 on Friday night at Veterans Stadium.
“That’s what it’s about,” Bears head coach Rob Scheidt said. “It’s not about your style of play, it’s all about getting the W. For us to score the points in the fashion we did with the two kickoff returns and for that to stand up is huge.”
Merced (3-2) started the game with a bang as Jabar Byrd returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown to give the Bears a 7-0 lead.
“I just saw my blocks,” Byrd said. “We call a middle return and I watched my blocks set up. I saw an open lane, and I tried to make a play.”
Byrd accounted for the bulk of the Merced offense, rushing for 109 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries.
The senior running back added a 37-yard touchdown later in the second quarter to give Merced a 17-10 lead.
Meanwhile, the Bears’ defense had its hands full with Clovis North star Bolu Olorunfunmi. The UCLA-bound running back racked up 202 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries.
Olorunfunmi did it despite suffering what appeared to be an early ankle injury. He was carried to the locker room at halftime by teammates and a coach and didn’t start the third quarter as he was getting stretched out by a trainer.
Olorunfunmi helped the Broncos (2-3) stay with the Bears with a 52-yard touchdown run and a 6-yard score in the second quarter that tied the game 17-17 with 5:09 left in the half.
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The Bears’ specials team delivered again as Jamar Turner returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards before getting tackled at the Clovis North 1-yard line. Byrd then punched in a 1-yard touchdown run on third down to give the Bears a 25-17 lead late in the half.
Merced’s defense came up with a big sack on Clovis North quarterback Austin Autry on the final play of the half.
Merced sacked Autry seven times, including a safety in the first quarter.
After both teams exchanged touchdowns in the third quarter, the Bears’ defense made the big plays when they needed in the final quarter. Safety Da’vonya Shepherd intercepted a tipped pass in the end zone to stop a Clovis North drive with just under six minutes left.
The Merced defense then forced a four-and-out on Clovis North’s final possession, with Kenneth Hamel recording a sack on fourth down.
“That last drive they weren’t able to get the ball to (Olorunfunmi),” Scheidt said. “When they needed to make a play, we didn’t let them get the ball to him. He’s the type of guy who could rush for 330 yards and five touchdowns and everyone says ‘Wow.’ I thought we did a good job of getting him tired by the fourth quarter.”
This story was originally published September 27, 2014 1:21 AM.