ATWATER -- With overthrown balls, dropped passes and untimely interceptions, the Merced passing game looked like it hadn't made the short trip down Santa Fe Avenue on Friday night.
That was all right, though, because running back Eric DeAnda was definitely in attendance.
The Merced senior might want to consider a midseason transfer, because he owns Falcon Field.
Almost a full year after setting Merced's single-game rushing record against Buhach Colony, the D-Train almost repeated the feat against Atwater.
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DeAnda rushed for 293 yards on 25 carries and helped Merced overcome a sloppy performance with three second-half touchdowns in a 30-13 Santa Fe Bowl victory.
"I have to give my offensive line and wide receivers a lot of credit," DeAnda said. "They were creating big holes all night and I was getting good blocks down field.
"I just made the most of it."
Merced (1-0 Central California Conference, 3-3) needed it.
Rob Scheidt's squad found itself trailing on the road with just under three minutes to play in the third quarter.
The Atwater defense turned Merced away inside its own 30-yard line four times in the first half, and a 98-yard touchdown pass from Chris Osborn to Ben Finister in the second quarter had Atwater down just 10-7 at intermission.
Bob Valladao's squad took its first lead of the night when linebacker Jeremy West stepped in front of a screen pass and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown.
A missed extra point made it 13-10 Atwater.
"It was a nice momentum swing," Valladao said. "The defense kept turning them away. Unfortunately we couldn't get any offense going."
Merced countered with a steady dose of DeAnda.
He put Merced back in front for good just three plays later breaking an unusual 48-yard touchdown run.
"Two guys came up to hit me and I kind of spun as they did it," DeAnda said. "I could feel one of the guys underneath me as we rolled and ended up back on my feet.
"Nick Zamora said keep running, because I never touched the ground, and I guess they thought I was down."
The referees agreed with DeAnda, never blowing the play dead.
It was one of the few breaks either team caught from the men in stripes.
Merced had two TDs called back, racking up nine penalties for 95 yards.
Atwater didn't fair any better, getting called for 15 penalties for 117 yards.
"It was tough with all the penalties and the turnovers, but our kids kept fighting," Scheidt said. "Eric really picked up the slack tonight. It was good to finally see him really bust out."
The Merced defense forced three fourth-quarter interceptions, setting up two more DeAnda touchdowns to put the game away.