The Sonora High School football team will play Merced in the second week of the 2004 season, with the Bears replacing Sheldon of Elk Grove, Sonora Athletic Director Rick Francis announced.
The Wildcats (6-0) have played Sheldon the last two seasons, winning 38-21 at Dunlavy Field in 2002 and 35-6 in Elk Grove on Sept. 19 of this year.
Sonora and Merced last played in 1978 and '79, with Merced winning 21-20 at home and 14-7 at Dunlavy, respectively. The '78 Merced team, featuring future USC and Los Angeles Rams center Tony Slaton, went on to make the first of six appearances by the Bears in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I finals.
Merced won Division I titles in 1989 and '90 and finished second in '78, '88, '92 and '93. The Bears reached the second round of the playoffs last year, but are 1-5 so far this season and pretty much out of contention.
Sonora will open against Johansen of Modesto for the seventh straight year in 2004, and will play Galt for the third straight year in Week 3.
The Wildcats currently have an open date in Week 7 of next season because the Division III Valley Oak League is losing both Pitman of Turlock and longtime member Los Banos to the Division I Central California Conference next year.
Only one of the two departing schools will be replaced, as Weston Ranch of Stockton will field its first varsity teams in 2004-05.