The mood near the East Union sideline did not reflect the outcome of the game Friday at Dino Cunial Field.
Downey, led by Bryce Gouker’s five touchdown passes, conquered the Lancers for a second straight year, 49-30.
East Union walked away from the rematch far more encouraged than it did at this point last year. The Lancers put forth a spirited effort despite many mishaps, some self-inflicted, and were in the fight until their final drive ended on downs midway through the fourth quarter.
“I felt we did way better than last year,” East Union quarterback Eric Morales said. “Last year we kind of gave up, but tonight we kept going and we kept our heads up. Even though we took this loss it doesn’t matter, we’re coming back next week stronger.”
The visiting Knights came into season opener ranked 15th in the Sac-Joaquin Section, according to the MaxPreps computer ratings, and looked the part. Gouker completed 19 of 27 passes for 293 yards and hit Joseph Easterwood (eight receptions, 145 yards) and Bronson England (4-32) twice each for touchdowns. Lawrence Harris added five catches for 88 yards and a score.
Running back Robert Rivera added 81 yards and a TD on 18 scampers to the prolific spread offense.
“That’s the thing with Downey, it’s not like they only have one guy or on weapon to go to,” East Union coach Willie Herrera said. “It’s like, you can double cover that guy but there are three others you have to worry about. We tried to pick our spots, but it seemed like every time they found the guy who was single covered.
“Bryce is a good quarterback and he proved tonight that he is deserving of all the accolades that he got leading up the season.”
Carlos Alvarez rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns and also had three catches for 50 yards to lead East Union, which had a frustrating start.
On the third play of the game, Alvarez took a short pass from Morales on third-and-long and fought through a wall of Downey defenders before breaking into the open for what could have been a 61-yard touchdown. An inadvertent whistle took away the scoring opportunity, and Morales threw an interception to Cody Love on the replayed down.
Downey took advantage of the turnover, scoring three plays later on Gouker’s 4-yard toss to England. Gouker hooked up with Easterwood on the conversion.
England made his way into the end zone on Downey’s next drive on another controversial play. East Union safety Shane Crawford wrapped up England near the line of scrimmage, and the ball carrier’s knee appeared down after trying to spin away from the tackle. No whistles were blown, as he sprinted to an uncontested touchdown from 16 yards out.
It was the first of three unanswered scores for Downey, which led 28-8 early in the second quarter.
Tyler Diaz’s 5-yard jaunt — and ensuing conversion catch — with 2 minutes left in the half kept East Union in the game.
Other missed opportunities — such as a dropped pass by an open receiver in the middle of the field, and a strip-six from Mekhi Richardson nullified by an early whistle — further hampered the Lancers, but they kept coming.
“Those are some of those things you harp on, like playing through adversity when things aren’t going your way,” Herrera said. “That’s when the true character of a team comes out — are they going to bicker or are they going to fight? Are they going to blame coaches and referees?
“I’m sure there was some disappointment here and there, but I heard kids checking each other, saying ‘No, we’re good.’ This is a good group. Once we get some things ironed out, we’re going to have a good year. I wouldn’t count us out in any game.”
Morales, who finished 9-of-17 passing for 96 yards, had another costly interception, this one made by Amiel Avalos, in the third quarter, and Downey turned it into a one-play drive highlighted by Gouker’s perfect 24-yard pass to Harris. The Knights’ lead swelled to 42-16.
East Union came alive with late in the period thanks to touchdown runs of 49 and 63 yards from Morales (six rushes, 52 yards) and Alvarez. The Lancers went into the fourth down 42-30 but with a sliver of hope.
“I learned that we don’t give up,” Morales said. “We just played through it. We went down three touchdowns and came back, and every time they’d score we would answer. That’s what I’m most happy about. We kept our heads up and played through it. I’m proud of my team.”
Downey 20 8 14 7 — 49
E. Union 8 8 14 0 — 30
D—Bronson England 4 pass from Bryce Gouker (Joseph Easterwood pass from Gouker), 9:33.
E—Carlos Alvarez 19 run (Tyler Diaz run), 6:09.
D—England 16 pass from Gouker (pass failed), 3:35.
D—Robert Rivera 1 run (pass failed), 0:20.9.
D—Easterwood 56 pass from Gouker (Lawrence Harris pass from Gouker), 9:26.
E—Diaz 4 run (Diaz pass from Eric Morales), 2:00.
D—Easterwood 15 pass from Gouker (Cris Cortez kick), 8:27.
D—Harris 24 pass from Gouker (Cortez kick), 7:15
E—Morales 49 run (Ryland Toves pass from Morales), 5:45.
E—Alvarez 63 run (run failed), 2:01.
D—Michael Nevarez 1 run (Cortez kick), 9:54.