The Downey High football team has won five consecutive Modesto Metro Conference championships – the longest streak in the Stanislaus District – but the dynasty’s roots extend beyond the city limits.
Coach Jeremy Plaa seeks to create competition and adversity with his non-league schedule, so that his Knights are well-equipped to withstand any challenge in the MMC.
This fall, he won’t deviate from that plan.
Plaa has locked in three of the Stanislaus District’s top large-school programs.
“We’re young this year. We’ll probably have more sophomores up than we normally do,” Plaa said. “Our senior class doesn’t have a lot of kids. ... So how do you build your schedule so that by the end of the season you’re playing your best football?”
Downey will open at the season with three consecutive road games, beginning with its season opener against Buhach Colony on Aug. 25. The game will be played at Dave Honey Stadium, the facility shared by Buhach Colony and Atwater.
The Thunder replace Lincoln of Stockton.
“We got stuck this year looking for a Week 0 game because the Lincoln contract was up and Pitman wanted to play Week 3,” Plaa said. “Buhach was looking for a Week 0, so we decided to go there. We’re going to have to have a road warrior mentality and find out about our program early.”
The Knights also visit Patterson on Sept. 1. Patterson Community Stadium was outfitted with new artificial turf last year, and two of the most explosive offenses in the Stanislaus District could turn that slick surface into a conveyor belt.
Under Plaa, Downey attacks through the air and will feature one of the top recruits in Northern California in wide receiver Isaiah Johnson, a UCLA commit. Patterson will strike back with a hybrid offense dubbed “Spread ’em and Shred ’em” by coach Rob Cozart.
Last season, the two combined for 71 points in a shootout won by Downey, 50-21.
The Knights travel to Tokay on Sept. 8 before making their home debut against Pitman, a program that rose to No. 1 in The Bee’s large-school rankings last fall. The Pride defeated Downey in the 2016 opener, scoring the final 27 points in a 33-22 win.
Pitman fell behind early, 14-0, and didn’t take its first lead until there was a 5:24 left in the game. Tackle Anthony Carbajal’s 25-yard scoop-and-score pushed the Pride ahead and will likely be a part of the narrative leading into the rematch on Sept. 15.
It’s wheels-up again for these traveling Knights, who will be a guest in three of their first four Modesto Metro Conference games. Downey opens with its Block D rivalry against Davis, at Gregori High’s Don Lanphear Stadium on Sept. 22, and then hosts Enochs on Sept. 29.
The Knights will spend the first two Fridays in October at Johansen High’s Dan Gonsalves Stadium playing Beyer (Oct. 6) and Johansen (Oct. 13).
The fate of Downey’s dynasty could be decided in the final two games, both of which will be played at Chuck Hughes Stadium. The Knights welcome Modesto on Oct. 20 and then close the regular season against Gregori on Nov. 3.
Plaa said his non-league schedule challenges his team in ways the MMC cannot.
The MMC suffers from a severe competitive imbalance and the seven Modesto City Schools teams will be realigned into two new leagues for the 2018-19 school year.
“Gregori is catching up a little more every year and Modesto plays us well no matter what. They’ve really been our biggest rival,” Plaa said. “That will help” with the postseason push, “but still, playing games we know we can win ... you want to play good competition.
“We have to schedule four pretty tough preseason games. Our goals are always next level. Whatever we do this year, we want to be next level the next year. We want to go beyond the league titles.”