Rob Scheidt doesn’t mind having to wear long sleeves when he heads out to the football field. The Merced High School head football coach doesn’t miss practicing during triple-digit heat.
The chill in the air feels more like football weather, and the high school playoffs are here.
“Having to wear a sweatshirt at practice is not a bad thing,” Scheidt said. “It’s dwindled down drastically to where there are only a few teams playing. We’re one of 12 teams left in Division 3. We feel good about that.”
The Bears are one of nine Merced-area teams to advance to the playoffs, which kick off Friday night.
Los Banos, Hilmar, Stone Ridge Christian all earned first-round byes in their respective divisions in the Sac-Joaquin Section. Dos Palos earned a bye in the Central Section playoffs.
Merced, Golden Valley, Gustine, Le Grand and Chowchilla will all be in action this week as they try to keep their seasons alive.
“We’ve talked all week about how we had four practices left this week,” Scheidt said. “There are no guarantees that will get four more. We’re down to single-digit practices left each week and you play for your next four practices.”
Merced (7-3) earned the No. 5 seed in Division 3 and will host No. 12 Bella Vista (4-6) at 7 p.m. Friday at Cathie Hostetler Stadium.
Scheidt says his team has really learned how to practice since the Bears lost to Downey in the third game of the season. Since then Merced has gone 6-1, cruising to the Central California Conference championship by outscoring their six CCC opponents 308 to 83.
Merced’s lone slip-up during that stretch was a 35-17 loss to Monterey Trail, which is the No. 4 seed in the Division I playoffs.
“We’ve practiced so well since that Downey game,” Scheidt said. “We haven’t always played our best on Friday night each week, but this group has learned how to practice.”
The four days of practice is important this week as the Bears prepare to face a wing-T offense in Bella Vista.
The Bears haven’t face a wing-T attack this year, so this game could be a refresher course if Merced advances to play No. 4 Oakdale next week in the quarterfinals.
Other Merced-area matchups include:
No. 9 Golden Valley (6-4) at No. 8 Linden (8-2) — The Cougars should be in for a fun matchup against Lions quarterback Matthew Schallberger, who has passed for 2,058 yards and 22 touchdowns.
The Cougars are led by senior Jonah White, who has 62 receptions for 1,020 yards and 13 touchdowns. Running back Tyrrell Johnson has rushed for 995 yards and eight touchdowns.
This is Golden Valley’s fifth consecutive playoff appearance and 10th postseason trip in school history.
No. 6 Waterford (4-6) at No. 3 Le Grand (8-2) — Two Southern League opponents square off in a rematch of a Sept. 22 game won by the Bulldogs, 41-28.
Le Grand sophomore Diego Martinez threw three touchdowns in that first game, with all three scoring strikes connecting with senior Reyes Diaz. Alexis Granados added 189 rushing yards and a touchdown against the Wildcats.
Martinez is closing in on 2,000 yards passing this season, throwing for 1,925 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Granados has rushed for 1,399 yards and 12 touchdowns and Diaz has hauled in 39 catches for 790 yards and 14 touchdowns.
No. 5A Gustine (4-6) at No. 4A Rio Vista (7-2) — The Reds enter the playoffs on the heels of a three-game losing streak. Gustine has been outscored 125 to 25 in those three losses by Le Grand, Ripon Christian and Orestimba.
Gustine will try to slow down a Rio Vista team that averages more than 300 yards rushing per game. The Rams have won their last six games, averaging close to 50 points per game and posting three shutouts along the way.
No. 11 Roosevelt (6-4) at No. 6 Chowchilla (8-2) — The Tribe enter the playoffs after a perfect 7-0 run to a Northwest Sequoia League championship.
Davian Stephenson made the move from receiver to quarterback in the first week after a season-ending injury to Benson Soares. Since taking over, Stephenson has thrown for 864 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushed for 641 yards and nine more scores.
Junior Dwayne Hemphill does a lot of the heavy lifting in the ground game, rushing for 783 yards and seven touchdowns.
Hemphill also returned two fumbles for touchdowns on defense in last week’s win over Liberty.
The Rough Riders have won their last four games heading into the playoffs and are led by Jackson Kloster, who has thrown for 2,393 yards and 26 touchdowns. Senior Jeremy Young has caught 68 passes for 1,061 yards and 16 touchdowns.