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Santa Fe Bowl still significant 42 years later

It wasn't too long ago the Santa Fe Bowl was the big game on the schedule for Merced and Atwater.

Back then, when the Falcons would come to town, Stadium '76 would be filled to capacity.

Now Bears coach Rob Scheidt wonders if the term "Santa Fe Bowl" even registers with his players.

With the development of Golden Valley and Buhach Colony, both teams now have intra-city rivals.

"Merced is always going to be a rivalry for me," Atwater coach Bob Valladao said. "It doesn't matter if we have new schools. It goes back to when I was in high school. Merced is good. Even though they didn't win the championship last year they command that type of respect."

Tonight the two teams will meet in Santa Fe Bowl 42. The Bears own a 27-14 edge in the series.

The spotlight will be on the rivalry with KFRE WC 59 televising the game at Veterans Stadium.

To accommodate the broadcast the junior varsity game has been moved up to 4:30 p.m. Kickoff for the varsity game is scheduled for 7.

Contrary to Scheidt's thoughts on the rivalry, his Bears (2-3) should remember the Santa Fe Bowl. It was only two years ago that Nate Sanchez's 41-yard touchdown pass to Steve Odom in the final seconds gave Atwater a 21-20 win. That loss cost Merced a share of the Central California Conference championship.

The Falcons (3-2) have that same ability to make big plays out of their new shotgun Wing-T.

"Our Achilles' heel has been giving up the big play," Scheidt said. "It killed us against Edison. It hurt us against Paradise. I thought we did a great job against Grant at preventing it.

"I think Atwater is vastly improved. They have a grasp of their offense. They're comfortable with their ability to run it. Their defense is sound. They're confident in what they do."

Injuries have forced Merced to mix up its offensive line.

The Bears likely will be without their top lineman, Brandon Wooldridge, again tonight and senior lineman Ruben Rico's availability against Atwater is in question.

Running back Devonte Mays should return after missing the Grant game with an injury. The Bears will need to get their ground game going with Mays, Errol Dennis and Jaquari People.

People will draw plenty of attention wherever he goes. The third-year senior leads the team in receiving and is second in rushing.

"They like to run him on the fly sweep," Valladao said. "He can throw the ball. They'll put him at quarterback in the wildcat. He's a guy that can make plays returning kickoffs. He's definitely a playmaker."

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