A second half comeback was Pitman's plan after the Pride turned the ball over three times in Friday’s home league game against two-time Central California Conference champion Merced High.
Down 21-7 by the start of the third, Pitman was hurting after Merced gashed the Pride defense for 238 yards of total offense in the first half behind their big offensive line and running back Ulonzo Gilliam.
Pitman only amassed 160 yards of offense in the first two quarters, 75 in the first drive alone, but held Merced to a lone 24 rushing yards in the second half. Unfortunately, Pitman quarterback Jacob Perez fumbled in the team’s final drive after picking up a first down and the Pride fell to the Bears, 28-21.
“To be honest we gave up one too many turnovers and we gave too many opportunities, one or the other, and our kids really came out to play and I am so proud of them for not giving up,” said Pitman head coach Tom Tyler.
“We had to come out and give it our best for our brothers and 100 percent for the guy next to you,” said Pitman defensive linemen Rylan Boutelle. “The first half did not go as planned, but we stepped it up in the second half and gave it our all.”
They did, holding Merced to only 118 total yards in the second half, and 47 in one scoring play even after losing starter Blake McBay to a serious knee injury.
Devan Bass stepped in and filled McBay's shoes nicely, combining for over 220 all-purpose yards by the end of the night.
“Blake is the man but I had to step up and be a leader. I was trying to score as many touchdowns as I could for my team,” said Bass who rushed for 95 yards on 14 carries.
In the opening drive, McBay carried the ball seven times in the 17-play scoring drive that resulted in the first touchdown by the Pride.
The drive was over six minutes and Merced came back to notch a score on fourth down, which was followed by a fourth down stop for Merced.
Gilliam rushed for a 34-yard score to take a 14-7 lead and after Brandon Pacheco intercepted Merced’s Jacob Foss, Merced came right back on the ensuing play to pick off Perez for the first of two times and set up the third score to take a 21-7 lead with 1:24 left in the first.
Sinue Cortes picked off Foss in Merced’s opening drive of the second half and all bets were off.
Pitman’s Bass notched his lone touchdown of the game with a three-yard burst up the middle with 9:26 left in the third, cutting the lead to 21-14.
Both sides went three and out in their following drives before Pitman stopped Merced on a critical fourth and inches play in the final minutes of the third.
With an opportunity for a scoring drive, Perez threw his second interception on the third play of the drive, giving Merced great field position.
In seven drives in the second half, Pitman’s defense was tough to get through, forcing two turnovers, two punts and three turnover on downs against Merced’s offense.
“I think if we would have tackled better in the first half then we could have done the same since we did not tackle as well in the first half, but their kids are great,” said Tyler. “We just tackled them better in the second half. Merced did not get things started in the second as they did in the first half.”
Tyress Pope tied the game at 21-21 with 7:37 left in the game after rushing for an eight-yard score then it was all up to the defense to hold up as they have for much of the second half.
After each side punted once, Merced grabbed possession once again and on the second play of the drive, Foss connected with AJ Stewart on a 47-yard pass on a broken coverage play to take the 28-21 lead.
“We just got beat deep. We managed to get good pressure on them since we did for the most part for majority of the game but it’s one of those rare cases where we got beat,” said Boutelle. “We definitely gave it our all. Couple things went wrong, but overall every one of us gave it our all for each other.”
Bass returned the ensuing kickoff for over 65 yards, nearly returning it for a score, however, Stewart made the stop at their own 26-yard-line. Pitman was set up for one final drive but Perez fumbled on a critical fourth down with 2:34 left and Merced managed to run the clock down.