MODESTO -- Everyone knew Aaron Zwahlen could throw the ball. That's what punched his ticket to the University of Hawaii.
But in Downey High's 46-32 victory over Modesto on Thursday night, the senior gunslinger showed off another dimension.
With the game firmly in hand at halftime and the Knights' backup quarterback on the sidelines with a knee strain, Zwahlen spent the final two quarters handing off and otherwise just doing his best to keep the clock running.
Zwahlen, who threw one pass in the second half after the Knights rolled to a 36-0 halftime lead, completed 19 of 30 passes for 297 yards and five scores. He leads the state with 33 touchdown passes against seven interceptions, while boosting his season's yardage total to 2,160.
Downey improved to 6-1 overall and 3-0 in the Modesto Metro Conference after what by far was its sloppiest performance of the season. The Knights committed five turnovers, which allowed the Panthers (1-5, 0-2) to make the final score close.
But a spirited rally was not all Modesto was able to show. It also unveiled two very exciting weapons in juniors Lovell Collins and Tiki Tonga.
Collins found the end zone three times in the second half, mostly against Downey's reserves. He finished with 61 yards rushing, 46 receiving and also returned a kickoff 89 yards for a score.
Tonga, who entered the game with 9:35 left in the second quarter, completed 12 of 22 passes for 157 yards and four touchdowns.
The final 14-point margin, reached when Tonga hit Tyler Kafka with a 12-yard scoring pass with one minute, eight seconds left in the game, was as close as the Panthers were able to crawl after the 36-point halftime deficit.
But it was enough of a rally to force Downey to think about what it was doing on offense, and to the Knights' credit they chose not to panic but keep the ball on the ground, even while never coming out of their shotgun offense.
So Downey ran for 179 of its 475 total yards, with Kai Zambrano gaining 54 and Juan Vaa-Ayala 51. That's not an overwhelming ground total, but enough to make future opposing defenses take notice while giving the Knights a reason to believe it can run the ball when needed.
When Downey was able to get out of its own way in the first half it was able to move the ball with stunning efficiency.
The Knights fumbled away the ball twice and Zwahlen threw an interception on a first-down play in Modesto territory, but other than that they were rarely slowed, let alone stopped.
Zwahlen completed 18 of 29 passes in the opening 24 minutes, good for 299 yards and five touchdowns two to Richard Lopez and one each to Tristan Best, Vaa-Ayala and the last to Michael Falepouono covering 9 yards with 33 seconds left in the half to give Downey a 36-0 lead.
Lopez had nine receptions for 91 yards in the half, with the scoring catches covering 55 and 4 yards.
Modesto did what it could to maintain possession and keep the ball out of the hands of the Knights' quick-strike offense.
The Panthers moved to an unbalanced line, with five linemen to the right of center, and had some success running straight ahead with zone blocking techniques. Collins carried 18 times for 61 yards, but Modesto only once got into the red zone.
With both sides using onside kicks and trying to convert fourth downs no matter the territory, the game took on Madden-esque levels of risk-taking.
But in the end Downey was able to accomplish what it set out to do.
The Knights won with a final score that was not at all embarrassing and remained relatively healthy as they continue to point toward their upcoming showdown with Enochs for the MMC title.