High School Football

Merced High football still team to beat in CCC

Jabar Byrd (2) and the Merced High Bears are looking to win the Central California Conference again. They open league play tonight in Atwater.
Jabar Byrd (2) and the Merced High Bears are looking to win the Central California Conference again. They open league play tonight in Atwater. akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

Merced High’s football team came into the season as the favorite to repeat as the Central California Conference champion.

After six weeks, nothing has changed.

CCC action begins tonight and the Bears (3-2) are still the team to beat. Merced travels to Atwater (1-4) for the 45th Santa Fe Bowl. Merced holds a 30-14 edge in the series.

Golden Valley (0-5) hosts Turlock (2-3) and Buhach Colony (3-2) travels to Joe Debely Stadium to face Pitman (4-0).

All games start at 7:30 p.m.

Is Merced a slam-dunk choice? No.

Merced has its issues. The Bears have lost defensive lineman Justin Solis (shoulder) and defensive back Lawrence Anderson (knee), both senior starters, to season-ending injuries.

That makes Merced younger on defense and the Bears have given up almost 32 points per game.

There are no such worries on offense, where Merced is averaging more than 47 points.

The Bears’ are racking up almost 260 yards on the ground and 208 yards in the air. Turnovers have been a problem for Merced, but after five interceptions in the season opener, Bears quarterback Tyrone Williams has thrown only two picks in four games.

To beat Merced, teams have to win the turnover battle and keep the Bears’ offense off the field. Teams like Buhach Colony, Pitman and Turlock are capable of doing it.

Here’s a look at three questions with CCC beginning play tonight:

Who is Merced’s biggest threat? – Pitman comes in unbeaten with wins over Downey (4-1) and the usually tough Lincoln of Stockton (2-3), but Buhach Colony could be the team to knock off Merced.

The Thunder have the type of offense that can sustain drives, chew up the clock and keep the game from turning into a track meet.

Buhach Colony is also battle tested with a tough nonconference schedule that included games against Pacheco, Clovis North and St. Mary’s. If it wasn’t for a late fumble against Clovis North, the Thunder could easily be 4-1.

Will Golden Valley win a game? – Yes. It’s hard to imagine a Dennnis Stubbs’ team going 0-10. The Cougars have been competitive in some of their games this year. They had a 13-point lead with six minutes left against Oakland’s Stellar Prep before losing 16-13.

Somehow the Cougars will find a way to win a game. Golden Valley surprised Turlock last year. It could happen again tonight.

Who are the favorites for MVP? – Merced’s Jabar Byrd is probably the most explosive player in the conference. The senior running back has 566 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s also one of the top defensive backs in the league and he’s dangerous on special teams. He returned the opening kickoff 97 yards in Merced’s 32-25 victory over Clovis North.

Teammate Williams is also a candidate. He was named the Offensive Player of the Year last year and should have a big second half.

If Buhach Colony wins the CCC, Justin Stefani could take the award. The Thunder bruiser is tough to bring down. He has 636 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s also a force on the defensive line.

This story was originally published October 9, 2014 7:23 PM.

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