Downey left it in the hands of a freshman quarterback to give the Knights all they needed to slay a Valley Oak League giant at Manteca High’s Guss Schmiedt Field on Friday.
Beau Green went untouched on his read-option scamper up the middle, and the 3-yard touchdown run with 12 seconds remaining put the Modesto-based squad up for good, 44-42.
The Knights started with junior Bryce Gouker (2 of 6, 14 yards) behind center, and the two alternated drives until they settled on the hot hand — and feet. Green completed 16 of 25 passes for 284 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also rushed four times for 32 yards and two more scores.
“He just played really well,” Downey coach Jeremy Plaa said. “We thought the threat he presented to run the ball gave one more facet Manteca would have to defend, and it worked out and came down to the end.”
In the end, Downey (2-0), which routed East Union 39-19 last week, celebrated a statement victory against a two-time defending Sac-Joaquin Section champion. Malachi Butler, a towering 6-foot-8, 205-pound defensive end, punctuated the win with a sack near midfield as time expired.
“I think it probably shows everybody that we might be for real,” Plaa said. “I don’t think anybody gave us a chance playing these guys except for our guys. This is a great football program.”
Credit the Buffaloes (1-1) for not giving up in this epic slugfest. They surrendered three unanswered touchdowns and trailed 23-6 at one point in the second quarter, and Downey scored two straight touchdowns to begin the second half for a 38-20 lead.
“I’m really proud of the way the guys battled back,” Manteca coach Mark Varnum said. “To be down by three scores two times against that offense and take the lead, it’s like I told the kids, we’re going to grow from that. You don’t want to lose any of them, but losses like that make you better down the road.”
Manteca had all the momentum going into the fourth quarter. Jorge Cedano (10 receptions, 125 yards) made a sensational diving grab in the end zone on fourth-and-11, closing the Buffs in 38-35 with 33 seconds left in the third.
They got the ball back when Kevin Thornburg recovered his own onside kick at midfield, and with 7:57 to go Trabron Russell barreled in from 1 yard out for his fifth touchdown of the night and a 42-38 advantage for Manteca.
Russell finished with 271 yards on 37 carries and even completed a 45-yard halfback pass to Jacob DeJesus (two receptions, 80 yards) on the final drive of the first half. Manteca came away empty-handed, however, missing a 30-yard field goal. Downey took a 23-20 lead into halftime.
Russell rushed for 80 yards on Manteca’s opening drive and had 175 on 20 attempts by the break.
Russell gave kudos to both his offensive line and Downey’s defensive front for their battle in the trenches.
“I really have to give them credit,” he said. “That 6-8 guy was all over me tonight, 36 (Nathan McGaffee) was getting in there and 75 (6-foot-3, 320-pound Khapri Hunter) was in there, too. Their defensive line was really good, it was just about who was going to come out man-to-man in goal-line situations.”
Manteca quarterback Ryan Ward settled into a groove after a shaky start in which he misfired on his first three passes, including one that went for an interception that helped spark Downey’s early barrage. He finished 16 of 28 for 226 yards.
The Buffaloes piled up 565 yards of offense to Downey’s 500. Jordan Wilson was the Knights’ top rusher with 115 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Ethan Difuntorum had seven catches for 111 yards, and Anderson Grover added three for 99 including an 80-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
“Our youth on defense got exposed a little bit but they’re going to fix it, there’s no doubt about that,” Varnum said. “You watch film, you practice and all that, but getting that game-time experience is going to make you better more than anything. Going against a high-octane offense like that, that’s the best experience you’re going to get.
“We’ll tweak some things and get after it. It’s hurting the guys right now and it’s hurting me, but they’re hungry. Our aspirations are much, much higher. Our goals aren’t over yet, so we’re going to build off of this and go from there.”
Manteca hosts Granada of Livermore next week.
Downey 15 8 15 6—44
Manteca 6 14 15 7—42
M—Trabron Russell 15 run (run failed), 9:05.
D—Robert Rivera 32 pass from Beau Green (Cris Cortez kick), 5:12.
D—Jordan Wilson 45 run (Anderson Grover pass from Bryce Gouker), 2:56.
D—Green 2 run (Grover pass from Green), 7:21.
M—Russell 3 run (Kevin Thornburg kick), 4:46.
M—Russell 1 run (Thornburg kick), 1:05.
D—Green 10 run (Cortez kick), 10:53.
D—Grover 80 pass from Green (Cortez run), 6:15.
M—Russell 1 run (Russell run), 4:48
M—Jorge Cedano 12 pass from Ryan Ward (Thornburg kick), 0:33.
M—Russell 1 run (Thornburg kick), 7:57.
D—Green 3 run (kick missed), 0:12.