Kimball loses playoff

Kimball High senior Mason Rivera (center) looks for room to run against the Merced High defense Friday night at Don Nicholson Stadium.

The Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 semifinal game between Kimball and Merced came down to the last possession, the last play, and the final 2-point conversion attempt, which brought Merced the 51-50 win on Friday at Don Nicholson Stadium.

The Merced Bears (9-3, 5-1 Central California Conference) came into the game with oppressive pass coverage to hold Kimball senior quarterback Nicholas Coronado to 184 yards on 16 of 34 passes, and Kimball’s rushing game totaled 137 yards, led by senior Jerome Nance III and junior Sebastian Tate.

Ultimately the game turned on special teams plays, with senior Mason Rivera scoring on a 75-yard kickoff return to give Kimball (10-2, 5-1 Valley Oak League) a two-touchdown advantage at the end of the first quarter, and Rivera scored on a 60-yard punt return so that the Jaguars could hold that advantage at the half.

The big plays for Merced turned out to be a blocked punt for a safety in the third quarter, and the final play of the game, when a Merced lineman took a pass in the backfield and ran the ball in for a 2-point conversion.

Kimball coach LaTe’f Grim said it was no surprise that Merced would try to disrupt Kimball’s passing game, which the Bears did with multiple players covering Coronado’s most reliable receivers, including Rivera and senior Willie Clifton.

“They did what I expected. Make us take the balls that we could take,” he said. “We had too many dropped balls in the second half, and on big plays: long balls down the field and we kind of see how that came back to haunt us.”

“When you’re playing at this level and get this deep into the playoffs that’s what you expect. That’s how you slow it down. You play too high and you make everybody make plays.”

Rivera caught 10 passes for 114 yards. He said afterward that even with an early advantage the Jaguars knew they would have to perform at their best in the second half.

“We felt good about everything. We knew that they like to run a lot of trick plays. They like to be tricky, catch us off guard,” he said. “We were on it. We just couldn’t make the last play of the game. It’s heartbreaking to end this way.”

“The big plays are fun to enjoy in the moment and to celebrate as a team, but at the end of the game, big plays, it doesn’t matter if you don’t get that W.”

The Jaguar defense kept the Bears in check, including a couple turnovers, and play from the defensive line that pushed the Bears back for some critical stops. Sophomore Julian Keys sacked Scheidt for a 17-yard loss in the fourth quarter, and senior defensive end Chinedu Nwankwo also had a couple of key sacks.

“They were a tough team. We were trying to get our stops,” Nwankwo said afterward. “We were trying to get ourselves going, but they were just a tougher team.”

“It’s just tough to go out like that,” he said, but he was grateful for Kimball’s best season yet. “I love this team. I’ll go any day, any week with these dudes. I’m just so thankful for them. I wish we had come out with the win tonight but it doesn’t always work like that.”

The Jaguars got on the scoreboard on their first possession, a seven-play 73-yard drive with a 28-yard pass from Coronado to Rivera for the score. Kimball scored again midway through the first half on a 63-yard, five-play drive, including a 31-yard pass from Coronado to Rivera, and the two connected again on a 13-yard touchdown pass, with Coronado completing a 2-point conversion pass to senior Eric Gordon Jr.

Merced answered with an 80-yard drive that included a 45-yard pass from senior quarterback Seth Scheidt to senior Evahn Perez. Merced scored on Scheidt’s 3-yard pass to sophomore Chase Smith and Cyrus Amos made the point-after kick.

Scheidt completed 19 of 29 passes for 293 yards, including seven to Perez for 185 yards. Scheidt was also Merced’s rushing leader covering 95 yards on 26 carries as the Bears ran the ball for 214 yards.

Rivera’s 75-yard kickoff return came next, with Coronado passing to senior Willie Clifton for the 2-point conversion, making it a 22-7 game at the end of the first quarter.

Merced scored in the second quarter on a 46-yard, six-play drive with a 6-yard touchdown run for Scheidt, and Kimball covered 51 yards in five plays, including a 36-yard pass from Coronado to Clifton, with Coronado making the 6-yard touchdown run.

Merced followed with a 10-play, 69-yard drive, scoring on Scheidt’s 15-yard pass to Perez. Kimball lost the ball on an interception on the Jaguars’ next possession, but a three-and-out series followed for the Bears, with Nwankwo sacking Scheidt for a loss of 7 yards, and Rivera ran the punt back 60 yards for a touchdown to put Kimball up 34-20 at the half.

Both teams moved the ball on their early third-quarter drives, but couldn’t cross into the red zone until Scheidt passed to Perez for a 50-yard play. Three plays later Smith fought his way into the end zone from the 11-yard line to cut Kimball’s lead to 34-27.

The Jaguars went three-and-out on their next possession, with the Jaguars attempting the punt from the end zone. The Bears blocked the punt, but Kimball recovered the ball, giving the Bears the safety.

Kimball got the ball right back as the Bears fumbled on the kickoff and Tate came up with the ball on the Merced 43-yard line. Three plays later Tate made a 32-yard run up the middle for the touchdown, and Coronado passed to Gordon for the 2-point conversion.

Merced answered with an eight-play, 65-yard drive, including a 9-yard touchdown pass from Scheidt to junior Jack Collins. The kick from Abram Granados cut Kimball’s lead to 42-36 at the end of the third quarter.

Merced’s pass coverage came into play for the Jaguars first possession of the fourth quarter. The Bears then had 40 yards to cover after Kimball gave up the ball on downs. Merced needed just four plays, including a Scheidt’s 6-yard touchdown run, to tie it up 42-42. Granados’ kick gave the Bears a 43-42 lead.

With 4:15 left on the clock Coronado made a series of effective runs up the middle to start a seven play, 48-yard drive, including a 13-yard touchdown pass to senior Dylan Anderson. Coronado’s 2-point conversion run put the Jaguars up 50-43 with 1:35 left on the clock.

The Bears had 57-yards to cover, and a 42-yard pass from Scheidt to Perez got them most of the way. After a couple of penalties, and after both teams used up all of their time-outs, Scheidt made a 1-yard run into the end zone to cut Kimball’s lead to 50-49, with no time left on the clock.

For the conversion Scheidt passed to senior Jaylen Thao-Booth, a lineman for the Bears, on the left side in the backfield, and Thao-Booth ran the ball in for the 2-point conversion. An official threw a flag on the play, and it appeared that Thao-Booth would be declared an ineligible receiver and the play ruled invalid.

The referee then picked up the flag and declared the conversion good. He said after the play that Scheidt’s toss to Thao-Booth was a backward pass, which is a legal play, affirming the 51-50 score in Merced’s favor.

Merced will face Vanden High of Fairfield in next week’s championship game, location and time to be announced. Vanden defeated Vista Del Lago of Folsom 67-27 on Friday.

Contact Bob Brownne at, or call 209-830-4227.

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