MODESTO -- A quarter century is a long time to wait for anything, much less a playoff victory, but Downey High's drought came to an end in a big way Friday.
Aaron Zwahlen, who has a scholarship to the University of Hawaii waiting for him, passed for 395 yards and had a hand in four TDs as the Knights routed Bethel 41-6 in the first round.
Downey (10-1), the No. 4 seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 playoffs, hosts No. 5 Granite Bay (6-3) next Friday. The Grizzlies went 5-0 in the ultra-competitive Sierra Foothill League and beat Napa 52-0 Friday.
"Juan (Vaa-Ayala) and our line did a great job making sure our run game was a threat," said Zwahlen, noting how that prevented Bethel from dropping additional defenders into coverage.
That gave Zwahlen (26-of-37, two TD passes, two TD runs) ample time to move around the pocket and wait for his defenders to find holes downfield.
He had eight completions apiece to Tristan Best (145 yards, two TDs), Richard Lopez (95 yards) and Blake Lopes (82 yards), and his only interception was in the first quarter.
"A speed bump, and we came right back and took care of it," said Zwahlen, whose Knights never trailed and led 20-6 at halftime. "The defense was shading Richard, that was obvious, but that opened it up for the others."
Zwahlen now has 46 TD passes in 11 games he led the state during the regular season 3,470 yards. He now has 8,215 career passing yards, with 85 TD passes and 18 TD runs.
Bethel had a chance to take control early, as Zwahlen threw a ball into tight coverage and safety Chad Miller returned it 74 yards to the 14. The Jaguars missed a field goal, though, and Zwahlen capitalized on the error.
He drove the Knights downfield with short passes, then hit Best with a 30-yard strike for a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter. Bethel cut its deficit to 7-6 on a 9-yard pop pass to Deon Beck, but the rest of the half belonged to Downey.
Zwahlen hit Lopez with a 36-pass, finding his favorite receiver in a large gap in Bethel's zone coverage, and later he drew Bethel offsides with a hard count on fourth-and-1 at the Jags' 26. A few plays later, Zwahlen scored on a 1-yard sneak for a 14-6 lead with 5:35 in the half.
Bethel drove late in the half, but Adrian Luna and Austin Holt dragged down Bethel's quarterback at midfield to force a punt with 1:33 left. Moments later, Downey benefited from the hard rain that fell minutes earlier.
With Best running a streak down the right sideline, his defender slipped on the slick turf leaving Best alone to catch the pass at the 20 and run into the end zone for a 20-6 halftime lead.
Zwahlen wasn't affected by the torrent of rain that fell in the half, hitting 15 of 21 for 242 yards.
The second half continued to bring good fortune: Best brought back the kickoff 52 yards and Downey benefited from two personal fouls to start at Bethel's 17.
On fourth-and-inches at the 8, Zwahlen got behind center as if to sneak it then spun around and handed it to Vaa-Ayala. Vaa-Ayala got to the 1, and Zwahlen then scored to make it 28-6.
After Thomas Reynolds' 21-field goal late in the third quarter to make it 31-6, the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Holt came crashing into the backfield and forced a fumble on the last play of the quarter.
After Zwahlen flicked a 20-yard pass to Vaa-Ayala, he handed it to the halfback on the 6 and watched Vaa-Ayala crash into the end zone for a 38-6 lead.
Downey's defense forced three turnovers, two of which led to touchdowns, and had five sacks.