Rob Scheidt feels his team can actually stop and take a breath.
The Merced football team just finished a stressful three-game stretch, following up a tough loss to Buhach Colony by picking up crucial wins over Pitman and Atwater to clinch their first playoff berth since 2008.
Now that the Bears (3-1 Central California Conference, 6-3 overall) know they're in the playoffs, they can improve their case for a good seed tonight in the Battle for the Mayor's Cup against Golden Valley (0-4, 3-6).
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Veterans Stadium.
"There's kind of a sense of relief," Scheidt said. "We were able to qualify for the playoffs. We really had to go through a tough stretch against good opponents in Buhach Colony, Pitman and Atwater.
"I think this week our guys are excited to play in front of a big crowd at home, but I think our anxiety level isn't as high."
The Bears likely would earn a first-round home game in the playoffs with a win.
Golden Valley started 3-2, but has struggled going winless in CCC play.
The Cougars know to have a shot tonight they're going to have to slow down the Bears' offense.
"They can be explosive," Golden Valley head coach Dennis Stubbs said. "They can make a lot of big plays, whether it's the quarterback (Eli Gutierrez) making a long run, or him throwing a bomb and having someone jump up and catch it.
"To have a chance we can't give up three or four big plays."
The Bears lead the all-time series 10-8, including six straight wins.
Scheidt can't put his finger on why the Bears responded so well after the loss to Buhach Colony.
"I can't, but I do know we've practiced well, including this week," Scheidt said. "We've had some of the best practices since I've been at Merced."