STOCKTON — Merced head coach Rob Scheidt stood outside the visitors’ locker room at Sanguinetti Field following his Bears’ 49-21 setback to Vanden in Saturday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV title game, ticking off the names of programs that have won blue championship banners in recent years.
Merced is surrounded by communities that have won multiple championships since Scheidt began his tenure as Bears head coach in 1996.
“I just hope we get back to this point again, that’s the goal,” said Scheidt, who made his only previous trip to the section title game in 2006. “We’d really love to win a section title. Everybody does. Escalon, Hilmar, Oakdale, Manteca, Central Catholic (Modesto) … they all make it look easy. But it’s really hard. Ask Vanden … ’95 was their last one. It’s just a hard, hard journey, but a really fun one and rewarding one.”
The Vikings (11-2) were making their first section-final appearance in 26 years. Merced (9-4) was seeking its first title since 1990.
“This means a lot,” said receiver/cornerback Jamie East, who scored on TD catches of 56, 8 and 13 yards and had two interceptions, one a 24-yard pick-six. “Vanden hadn’t been to a section championship, or won one, since the 1990s. So, this meant a lot.”
East was the best player on the field Saturday, but to prove how deep Vanden’s roster truly is, Scheidt said East wasn’t the player that stood out during their film sessions.
“We were a little more worried about No. 6 (Michael Belk) and 2 (Amarian York) and 10 (Brayden Chavez) at receiver,” said Scheidt. “But East had a phenomenal game. I mean, he really set the tone on defense for them and caused us some problems.”
The Bears and Vikings battled to a 21-21 tie at halftime, with Merced getting a 43-yard TD run from Enoch Evans and a pair of scoring connections (32 and 43 yards) from quarterback Seth Scheidt to receiver Jack Collins.
Scheidt had to put of those throws on a dime because of Vanden’s tight, pressing coverage.
“The first one I tried to back-shoulder him and he caught it somehow in front,” said Scheidt. “The second one he almost ripped it out of the guy’s hands.”
In the second half was an entirely different story. Vanden blitzed unceasingly and Merced had no answer. It also didn’t help that the Bears lost guard Jalonn Booth, running back Chase Smith and Collins for chunks of the second half due to injury. Scheidt was knocked to the turf on nearly every pass attempt of the second half. Afterwards, while answering reporters’ questions outside the Bears’ locker room, the tough-as-nails senior looked as if he’d been in a 15-round prizefight.
Easts second and third TD receptions came in the third quarter and his pick-six came early in the fourth to make it 42-21, which effectively ended any comeback hopes Merced may have harbored.
Merced 7 14 0 0 — 21
Vanden 14 7 14 14 — 49
V—Robert Breed 32 int return (Diego Nuñez-Smith kick)
V—Sean Davis 8 run (Nuñez-Smith kick)
M—Enoch Evans 43 run (kick good)
M—Jack Collins 32 pass from Seth Scheidt (kick good)
V—East 56 [ass from Tre Dimes (Nuñez-Smith kick)
M—Collins 43 pass from Scheidt (kick good)
V—East 8 pass from Dimes (Nuñez-Smith kick)
V—East 13 pass from Dimes (Nuñez-Smith kick)
V—East 24 int return (Nuñez-Smith kick)
V—Davis 51 pass from Dimes (Nuñez-Smith kick)]