The Gregori High football team is a Modesto Metro Conference champion for the first time in program history.
That feat was confirmed last week following a 20-14 victory over Modesto High.
Yet, on the proudest night in program history, another MMC program sat in the stands at Don Lanphear Stadium celebrating its second chance at a share of its sixth straight title.
How fitting is it that, in its final season, the Modesto Metro Conference takes us right to the end … right to the edge of our seat?
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Eighth-ranked Downey (8-1, 4-1) welcomes No. 4 Gregori (9-0, 5-0) in a high-stakes regular season finale.
Gregori can clinch an outright league title -- and likely a home game in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs, too -- with a victory.
Downey is looking to extend a few streaks. The Knights are hunting a record-tying sixth straight city title. They can force a share with Gregori (and possibly Modesto, too) with a seventh consecutive win over the Jaguars.
“Gregori is a great program with many blessings,” Downey coach Jeremy Plaa said. “They will be good for as long as coach (Jason) McCoy is leading that program. I’m not sure who has the advantage. Both teams want to win. I expect our best effort of the year and expect to see Gregori’s best effort, too.”
Downey had destiny ripped from its grasp by the Panthers, who snapped the Knights’ 14-game league winning streak with a 38-28 victory on Oct. 20. Junior quarterback Bryce Peterson (2,432 yards, 24 touchdowns) had his worst performance of the season, throwing a season-high three interceptions.
Plaa said Peterson suffered a lower back injury early in the game and struggled with the pain and stiffness.
“The team just wasn’t as ready for Modesto as we should have been and that starts with the head coach,” Plaa said. “We are doing everything we can to put out young men in a position for our team to be successful this week.”
Downey knows nothing but success against the Jaguars. The Knight have won all six meetings, including a 44-0 thumping that prevented Gregori from earning a split of the 2016 league title.
McCoy insists there will be no hangover from last week’s victory. The Jaguars aren’t interested in sharing their prize. McCoy is also keenly aware of the MMC’s section-wide reputation and knows a 10-0 season is the only way to guarantee a home playoff game.
“We know how important this game is to our program,” McCoy said. “Our school has never beat Downey and this year’s team wants to change that. We do believe that 10-0 is the only way to get a home game. Having a home playoff game is one of our goals.
“Recreating last week’s emotion will be tough. Our seniors got crushed last year 44-0 in a championship game to Downey, and that score has motivated us to work hard and get better.”
In order to beat Downey on the field, McCoy said his team must tear down the mystique of the five-time defending champion. With a win on Friday, the Knights can become just the second team to win six consecutive Modesto city titles, joining Davis in the 1990s.
“Our guys this week have been focused and crisp,” McCoy said. “Downey does a lot of different things on offense and special teams you must prepare for. Last week was real physical, and this week’s been more mental.”
Plaa applauds McCoy and his staff.
While his program has towered over the MMC, Gregori has grown up in the Knights’ shadow. In the last four-plus seasons, the Jaguars are 35-13. They are on the cusp of the school’s first 10-win season.
With quarterback Bobby Avina at the controls, Gregori has the MMC’s second-best offense. Avina is completing 71.3 percent of his passes with 26 TD passes. Gregori is home to the top-two receivers in the MMC -- junior Marcello Longstreth (793 yards) and senior Gabe Sanchez (747) -- and the top scorer -- running back Mason Medrano (16 touchdowns).
Peter Garcia, the MMC’s top tackler, anchors the stingiest defense in the league. With 102 tackles, Garcia is the only player in the MMC with 100 or more stops.
Plaa said Downey’s history has no bearing on Friday’s match-up.
“This is a new year and a new group,” he added. “They have been doing things right since coach McCoy’s arrival and I expect our games to be great for years to come.”