After producing just one score for the better part of the first seven quarters of the season, the Merced College football team exploded for 21 points in the final 15 minutes on Saturday afternoon.
The Devils would need every single one as they survived a wild finish, defeating De Anza 21-20 on the road.
“Obviously, it’s nice to get that first win, but there’s a lot of things we need to work on,” Merced College coach Bob Casey said. “We have to get our offense going much earlier in ballgames.
“I think the defense has done a nice job keeping us in games, but we can’t rely on that. The fourth quarter we looked like a completely different team. Hopefully, we can build on that.”
Merced (1-1) struggled to create anything in the run or passing games, producing just three first downs and crossing midfield just once in the opening half.
Fortunately, the Blue Devil defense kept them in the contest while the offense tried to find a rhythm. MC did with ample pressure, piling up five sacks in the game behind Luke Jenkins’ 3 1/2.
The Dons (0-2) opened the scoring on their second possession of the game. Starting at the 50, De Anza marched down in eight plays, with Necholas Sermons punching in a run from 2 yards out.
De Anza doubled its lead early in the second quarter when a good punt return gave the Don offense a short field. Quarterback Jordan Ausbie broke free from 34 yards out to make it 14-0 at intermission.
The Blue Devils started moving the ball in the third quarter as sophomore quarterback Darrion Cole began to improvise with his feet. Cole got MC on the board with an 11-yard TD run as time expired in the third quarter, trimming the De Anza lead to 14-7.
Merced built on that momentum, forcing a three-and-out and scoring again on their next possession.
Cole (172 total yards, 2 TDs) and running back Jaylon Reed (16 carries for 60 yards) helped spark an 8-play drive, which Cole capped with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Mataeo Brinson. De Anza blocked the extra point, however, narrowly clinging to a 14-13 lead.
Merced took their first lead of the season on its next series. Reed broke free from 24 yards out to put the Devils in front. Cole connected with Demoundre Evans for a 2-point conversion to make it a 21-14 game with 3:31 to play.
“Field position was a big key in our comeback,” Casey said. “The first half, we couldn’t get out of our own end. I think we had three drives start inside our own 10.
“The defense did a great job pinning them in their end in the second half, and our offense took advantage of some short fields.”
De Anza refused to go quietly, immediately answering with a score of their own.
Terrance Sakyi hauled in an 8-yard TD catch with just 1:16 to play. It looked like the Devils might be heading to overtime, but Desani Tate blocked the would-be extra point to keep it a 21-20 game.
Merced recovered the ensuing onside kick, but failed to run out the clock, punting the ball back to the Dons with 48 seconds to play. Tate rose to the occasion again, intercepting De Anza’s last-second heave to preserve the victory.
The Devils will look to keep the momentum going this week when they return home to face an 0-2 Yuba team. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. at Stadium ’76.