Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Madera running back Dakota Torres looks for positive yardage against Merced on Friday.
MERCED — The Merced Bears defeated the Madera Coyotes by scoring four first half passing touchdowns.
Through the Coyote’s first three games their defense was focused on being able to stop the run, but Merced was able to find success by exposing the Madera secondary during Friday’s 54-27 victory in Merced.
Coyotes handed the ball off to senior running backs Eric Escobar and Josh McMillon to open the game. After two run plays resulted in loss of yards, the Coyotes decided to punt the ball away.
Merced ran the same amount of plays on its first possession but the result was a touchdown coming by way off a pick screen for 44 yards by Merced wideout Stephen Williams. Williams was one of seven Merced players that touched the ball on a scoring play.
On Madera’s second possession, the Coyotes were forced to their second three-and-out of the contest.
Merced’s second drive resulted in another touchdown and gave them a comfortable 14-0 lead to end the first quarter. But, it was the way the drive went that seemed to suck the life out of the Coyotes and crush their confidence for the remainder of the night.
On the possession, Merced was able to complete three pass plays of 25 yards or more. Broken tackles, and two second-down attempts downfield allowed a one-on-one shot to the end-zone when Rayveon Slaton caught on 26-yard touchdown over Coyote senior linebacker Justin Landero on a jump ball.
The response by the Coyotes could’ve kept the contest close if the defense was able to stop the bleeding.
Madera has been able to control tempo and move the chains on offense in their first three games of the season. The Coyote’s defense has been the lone soft spot and point of attack for most opponents.
The inside handoffs to McMillon on the ensuing drive came as no surprise to Merced, which gave the Bears a defensive urgency to get off the ball quick, and into the Madera backfield to stop the run.
With 11:02 left in the first half, Merced went all-in through the air after Madera showed its hand. The Coyote soft spot allowed 144 passing yards and four touchdowns before halftime. Merced quarterback Dhameer Warren was nearly perfect through two quarters. Warren completed
7-of-9 passes with four completions for touchdowns to four different Merced receivers.
On their first third down of the game, Merced left an opening that allowed Madera with an attempt to land a counter-punch after being hit in the mouth early in the game. The secondary was giving up big plays through the air, and Warren’s pass attempt on third-and-four hit a Coyote defender in the hands but was dropped after coming down with the ball. The Bears punted the ball away for the first time.
During the second quarter, Escobar broke free into the open field and went 37 yards to give the Coyotes breathing room and their first big gain. On a drive that saw four different ball carriers, Madera had rhythm.
Both teams exchanged penalties and with two change-of-pace rushers now moving the ball, the time to strike came. Senior running back Dakota Torres gained a first down and crossed midfield for Madera. After dropping the inside exchange from junior quarterback Jerry Hernandez, McMillon had back-to-back rush attempts, gaining a first down of his own.
The Coyotes were finally able to move the ball successfully. Madera’s best drive of the game lasted for nearly five minutes before Hernandez took a huge hit, which left him face-down after he tossed a second down pass attempt that dropped right into the hands of Escobar for a 26-yard touchdown. Escobar finished the night with three total touchdowns; this one cut the Merced lead down to seven.
Twenty seconds later, Merced all-purpose player Ulonzo Gilliam ran a flea flicker that resulted in a 78-yard touchdown with 5:55 left in the half giving his team a 21-7 lead.
With plenty of time left to get back in their groove and continue from the Hernandez pass touchdown, Torres gained positive yards before the Coyotes tried to stretch the field. Two incomplete passes forced a Madera punt.
Merced scored again before the half after a punt return took them down the Madera 39-yard line. Two consecutive run plays for 18 yards and Warren threw a 21-yard touchdown to give the Bears a 28-6 halftime lead.
The Coyote’s sideline went from quietly stunned to suddenly loud and angry. Madera has came back from more than two touchdowns this season and was able to find rhythm late in games, which is what they did in the second half. After Torres coughed up the ball deep in Madera territory, Merced scaled back on the pass attempts and Madera found success where they’ve found it all season, on the ground. Hernandez went for 51-yards on a quarterback keeper to score another rushing touchdown for Madera.
After bullying the Madera secondary, Merced took advantage of the depleted defense and scored on touchdown runs of 36 and 38 yards.
Escobar responded with touchdown runs of six and three.
Madera returns home on Friday to host the Atascadero Greyhounds at 7:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium for Homecoming.