Senior Pride running back Devan Bass and the Pitman varsity football team overcame their largest deficit of the year, and their worst first half performance thus far, after trailing 27-7 at the half, to pull out of Merced with a dramatic second half comeback.
Tied at 27-27 with 24 seconds remaining, Pitman decided to play for the victory and not shoot for overtime after quarterback Jacob Perez connected with Bass on a 60-yard touchdown reception to put the Pride up 34-27 for good. The Pride are now 5-0 for the season.
“At halftime coach said we needed to pick up the tempo, especially on offense,” said Bass, who scored four touchdowns for the Pride. “I honestly thought we would come back because of our tempo.”
The tempo wasn't there in the first half after the Pride committed multiple turnovers, including two fumbles on offense and a kickoff return turnover.
In fact, Pitman only amounted 94 yards of total offense in the first two quarters after running just 25 offensive plays.
Merced's Ulonzo Gilliam was arguably the most active player in the first half, after the running back scored the only four touchdowns for Merced to give the Bears their 27-7 lead at the half.
“I knew we would get the best from Merced but we didn't expect to start the way we did,” said Pitman's Brandon Pacheco.
Bass scored the Pride's only first half touchdown on an 11-yard burst with 4:38 left in the second quarter to make it 20-7 at that point.
Down 27-7 at the half, it looked as if the Pride were finished and Merced could continue their win streak against Pitman, but the Pride weren't done.
They were down, but far from being done and it showed after the team was able to rally in the second half for a dominating performance that left the Bears stands in shock.
Last time Pitman topped Merced was after a 19-7 win back on Oct. 28, 2011. That Pride team went on to accumulate an overall record of 10-3.
“I think the pressure for us is to not have a bad half and play so poorly as well,” said Pitman head coach Tom Tyler. “We did the same thing against Lincoln, but we have to not do that, not if we expect to continue to play well. We've got tough teams ahead of us, so we will not be where we are if we screw up a half like that.”
The second half didn't start the way the Pride wanted, but the defense was able to step up after the Pride committed their fourth turnover of the game in the first play of the third quarter after AJ Encalade fumbled.
Encalade would later redeem himself to score one of the Pride's five touchdowns but the comeback was slow getting started.
The defense forced Merced to punt and on the ensuing drive, the Pride marched for a nine-play drive that ended with a Bass four-yard score to make it 27-14 with 5:50 left in the third.
“We didn't focus on the score, but on the job at hand and we were working on getting everything right in the second half,” said Bass.
The Pitman defense held Merced to a punt once again and then responded with a 32-yard touchdown reception from Encalade to make the score 27-21 with 55 seconds remaining in the third.
Merced followed up with a drive that looked promising, however, Matt Parker of Pitman picked off Merced's Dhameer Warren on a critical third down, setting up the Pride with the game tying drive.
Pitman went on a 13-play drive to score on a four-yard run from Bass to tie it at 27-27 after missing the extra point.
Merced was held once again on the next drive and with 24 seconds remaining, the Pride were looking down the field 60 yards for a score.
All they needed was a field goal, but on a perfect pass play, Perez dropped back and heaved a long toss to Bass, who caught up with the ball in the air and sprinted down the sideline for the team's go-ahead touchdown as the stands and crowd erupted and went wild.
“We were fortunate to come back in this one,” said Tyler.
Pitman never led, until the final 24 seconds of the game.
Devan Bass tallied four catches for 101 yards and scored. He also rushed for three touchdowns after carrying the rock 17 times for 131 yards.
“We came together as a team and unit, knowing our first half was bad, we needed to come back and pound the rock and we did,” said Pitman center JT Mercer. “Merced is always a good team. It was an even look and I think I just got the jitters out of us and got after them.”
Pitman held Merced to 81 total yards of offense in the second half, including a shutout and outscored Merced, 27-0 in the second half.
“Our line picked it up in the second half and it helped out a lot. And on defense, we were more disciplined and did our job,” said Pacheco. “We've got five games left, all I have to say is one game at a time.”
Pitman will have a bye week before they take on Atwater for their homecoming on Oct. 7 at 7:30 p.m. at Joe Debely Stadium.