For weeks, much has been made about a potential Week 10 matchup featuring undefeated Downey and Gregori. Both teams appeared on a collision course to meet with identical 9-0 records during the final week of the regular season, with the Modesto Metro Conference championship on the line.
Modesto High, fueled by such talk, made it all a moot point Friday with a 38-28 upset victory over the five-time defending champion Knights at Chuck Hughes Stadium.
The Panthers, now 6-2 overall and 4-0 in the MMC, get another crack at a perfect team next week when it travels to take on 8-0 Gregori at Don Lanphear Stadium.
Downey, 8-1 and 4-1, has a bye next week and will be rooting for the Jaguars to beat Modesto so it can remain alive for a share of the conference crown.
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“They had a great game plan, they executed it and we couldn’t really get any momentum going,” said Downey head coach Jeremy Plaa. “They played extremely well and we didn’t. We still had a shot in the fourth quarter and just couldn’t pull through.”
Downey took a 14-10 lead with 3:13 to play in the first half when quarterback Bryce Peterson hooked up with Jairol Harris-Red for a 44-yard TD strike. At that point, it looked like the Knights had adjusted to the cold weather – the temperature dipped into the mid-50s during the game – and were on their way to 9-0.
But the Panthers mounted a 10-play drive that chewed up the final 3:05 off the clock and scored on the final play of the half when quarterback Norvale Howard, scrambling for his life, found a wide-open Colton Cruce in the back of the end zone for a 23-yard score. Annika Blom’s PAT gave Modesto a 17-14 lead at the break, but more importantly, it stole the momentum away from the Knights.
“The energy is always a positive and it’s nice to have those kind of moments,” said Modesto coach Brett Wagner. “That’s the character of our team. They’re fighters. They’re resilient.”
The Panthers made it 24-14 with 4:59 to play in the third quarter when Howard hit Alex Verduzco in stride for a 69-yard score.
Howard was 8 of 18 for 199 yards through the air and carried the ball 19 times for 108 yards, including a 49-yard scoring jaunt that made it 31-22 midway through the fourth quarter.
“We came out and fought hard the whole week and we had the greatest practice we had all year,” said Howard. “We really wanted to come out to fight Downey tonight and we came out with the victory.”
Downey running back Miles Lewis scored from 1 yard with 3:30 to play in the third quarter, and with the two-point conversion, the Knights trailed 24-22.
Howard’s 49-yard run made it a nine-point cushion before Lewis hauled in an 11-yard scoring strike from Peterson that made it 31-28 with 3:51 remaining. That touchdown was set up by a Roman Machuca’s fumble recovery.
After recovering the ensuing onside kick near midfield, Howard carried the ball three consecutive times, gaining 19 yards. That set up a 31-yard TD jaunt by Ryan Henrieques that produced the final margin.
Downey got the ball back with 2:13 to play, but Chris Styles intercepted the ball at Modesto’s 13 to seal the victory. Henriques and Skye Scacutto also picked off passes for the Panthers.
Downey entered the game averaging 51 points per game and was held to a season-low 28. Enochs also limited the Knights to 28 points. But against Modesto, one of Downey’s scores was a defensive touchdown – Malachi Butler intercepted Howard in the end zone – and Harris-Red’s came on a blown coverage on the first play from scrimmage after a 25-yard field goal from Blom.
Only Lewis’ touchdowns came on legitimate Downey scoring drives.
“We knew our defense is top notch,” said Wagner. “We just shut people down.”