ATWATER — Rob Scheidt saw the complete performance he's been waiting to see from his team in last week's victory against Pitman.
The Merced head coach saw his offense sustain drives and make big plays. He watched as his defense came up big against the Pride offense after struggling against the run for much of the season.
The result was an emphatic 44-13 win.
"For us, last Friday was a relief," Scheidt said. "Guys who have followed us or who have been around the program expected this team to play like that for a while. Last week we showed it. We have to show up with our best again on Friday. If not, we're not going to win."
That's because the Bears (2-1 Central California Conference, 5-3 overall) head to Atwater (2-1, 6-2) tonight for the 43rd Santa Fe Bowl.
The Falcons are also coming off of an emotional 21-14 overtime win over Turlock last week.
Atwater head coach Bob Valladao felt the game shouldn't have been that close.
The Falcons' offense struggled after scoring on the their first drive; three turnovers also kept the Bulldogs in the game.
"We should have scored 35 points," Valladao said. "If our offense can't find our niche and extend drives, we're going to struggle.
"We know our defense is going to play well and keep us in games. But against good teams we have to string drives together."
The Falcons' defense will be challenged against the Bears' explosive offense. Merced did pretty much what it wanted against Pitman last week. Quarterback Eli Gutierrez passed for 177 yards and two touchdowns. He also added 102 yards rushing and another score.
Running back Errol Dennis added 122 yards on the ground and a touchdown.
"Again we're facing a mobile quarterback," Valladao said. "He's a little more versatile and he has more receivers. They're very athletic on offense. They're defense played really well last week. They've got speed and size. It's going to be a good test."
The Bears have owned the all-time series with a 28-14 edge, including wins in seven of the last eight years. Atwater's lone win came in 2009 on a last-minute touchdown pass from Nathan Sanchez.
"(Atwater) has all the ingredients you need to win football games," Scheidt said. "They have a good running game. They have a good defense that plays well against the run and the pass. They're also sound on special teams. They have a good return game, and that concerns you as a coach."
Both teams still have an opportunity to grab a share of the CCC championship if Buhach Colony (3-0, 6-2) were to slip up at least once in its final two games.
Atwater also has the extra motivation of being embarrassed in a 34-6 loss last year to Merced in a game that was televised locally.
"That game isn't forgotten," Valladao said. "The kids have talked about it. They wish they played better, being on TV. It's just more motivation for us to play well."