Another Downey High rout.
For the first time all season, the Knights’ prolific offense took a backseat to a young, fast-improving defense.
Downey forced six turnovers and limited Pitman to less than 100 yards in the second half en route to a 41-20 victory at rocking-and-rolling Chuck Hughes Stadium.
“We beat it into them all week long about ‘We have to stop trap. We have to stop belly,’” Downey coach Jeremy Plaa said of the Pride’s straight-ahead running style. “In the first quarter, we’d give them just a foot and their fullbacks were good about squeezing through and picking up 10 yards.
“I think they finally got it through their heads that they had to do what they were coached to do all week long. Sure enough, in the third quarter when they finally did it, we started to play really good defense. The improvement continues.”
Large-school No. 4 Downey will take momentum into next week’s Modesto Metro Conference opener against rival Davis (2-2), which was throttled by Ripon. The Knights have won four straight games, an optimal start to their quest for a record-tying sixth consecutive city title.
“We’re 4-0 now,” UCLA-bound defensive end Isaiah Johnson said with a smile, “... going on 10-0.”
Playing in front of their home fans for the first time all season, the offensive-centric Knights showcased a different brand of football.
Downey entered the game with one of the most potent offenses in the Sac-Joaquin Section. The Knights had averaged 64 points per game in road wins over Buhach Colony, Patterson and Tokay.
On Friday, the defense turned this annual grudge match with the Pride into a second-half snoozer.
Sophomore Ethan Difuntorum returned an interception 50 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter, while Julian Howze and Matt Williams also picked off passes.
Defensive lineman Ramon Machuca followed his 10-tackle debut last week with a sack and fumble recovery as the Knights outscored Pitman 21-0 over the final 22 minutes.
Johnson deflected one pass and recovered a fumble. On the opposite edge, fellow senior Xavier Lewis had a sack and forced Pitman to push an extra-point kick wide to keep the game tied at 20-20 early in the third quarter.
“Our defense really stepped up tonight,” said running back Miles Lewis. “They did exactly what they had to do for us to win this game. Isaiah and Xavier Lewis are the best (defensive ends) in Modesto, by far ... by far.”
That missed PAT signaled the beginning of the end for the Pride, who mustered just 15 yards on its next three drives.
Meanwhile, Downey’s slow-to-start offense sped toward the finish line. Bryce Peterson connected with Anderson Grover on an 8-yard touchdown pass to make it 28-20, and Lewis scored the first of two touchdowns after the Knights recovered the onside kick.
Lewis had touchdowns runs of 2 and 10 yards to salt away Pitman, which has lost three straight following a shutout victory over Napa in its season opener.
In each loss, Pride coach Tom Tyler can point to self-inflicted wounds. Friday was no different.
Quarterback Treyton Fair threw three interceptions, including the pick-six, and the Pride fumbled twice, spoiling a strong first half by the defense.
Early on, Pitman accomplished what no other team had – it silenced Peterson and Downey’s “Air Raid” attack. The Knights were scoreless on their first four possessions with back-to-back interceptions by Marcus Garza, but the Pride failed to capitalize.
Pitman was stuffed on fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard line and trailed 8-7 after one quarter, despite its success on defense.
Jacob Partida gave the Pride a 14-8 lead early in the second quarter with a 4-yard burst. Partida scored two touchdowns and finished with a team-high 84 yards and 16 carries, but was largely ineffective late with the Pride chasing.
Peterson finished 13 of 24 for 180 yards and a touchdown. However, his night will be remembered for the drops, including one in the end zone, and the interceptions.
“We knew from the start that our defense would have to step up,” Johnson said. “Our offense would (eventually) score, so we just had to make plays.”
The Knights gave up 129 points through the first three games, including a season-high 55 in their opener with Buhach Colony.
Johnson blamed those struggles on the Knights’ youth and pointed to Friday’s effort as a benchmark moment for a defense that features four sophomores.
“We can’t have people scoring on us like that,” Johnson said.