Gregori High football coach Jason McCoy gathered his team after a thrilling 35-32 victory over Downey at Chuck Hughes Stadium on Friday night.
He started his talk with a two-word message: “Mission accomplished!”
The Jaguars accomplished a lot with Friday’s victory, claiming the school’s first outright Modesto Metro Conference title, completing a perfect regular season mark of 10-0, and likely earning a home playoff game.
And they did it in dramatic fashion, rallying from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat a Downey team that has dominated the MMC over the past six years.
“That’s quite an accomplishment,” McCoy said of his team’s 10-0 record. “I said from Day 1 this is a special group right here and we had a motto from the very beginning. It was ‘On a Mission.’ ”
The mission was completed thanks to a gutsy effort from quarterback Bobby Avina, some hard running by Mason Medreno and a defense that held strong at the end despite a brave performance from Downey quarterback Bryce Peterson.
Oh ... and there was the incredible, one-handed catch that turned out to be the winning score. That catch — made by Marcello Longstreth — is sure to live in Gregori lore for years to come. The 18-yard touchdown play capped a 90-yard drive and gave the Jaguars a three-point lead with 4:37 left in the game.
Peterson – who passed for 374 yards and two touchdowns – led Downey down the field in the waning minutes and the Knights faced fourth-and-goal at the eight-yard line. But Peterson’s fourth-down pass fell incomplete and the Jaguars celebrated.
The victory was not only Gregori’s first MMC title, it is likely their last – at least for the foreseeable future. The MMC will be no more next season. Beyer, Johansen and Davis leave the league before next season, and Turlock and Pitman will join the remaining Modesto schools to make up the Central California Athletic League (CCAL).
Avina will likely be the MVP of the MMC when postseason honors are announced. He was 12 of 20 for 210 yards and four touchdowns on Friday, including the remarkable 90-yard game-winning drive.
Avina said his team wasn’t nervous in the huddle after taking the ball over at their own 10-yard line.
“We were fired up, we were pumped up,” Avina said. “We were ready to get it done. We had to go down there, drive down the field. We knew what was at stake and we wanted it more, so we just got it.”
Downey (8-2) looked as if it might run away with the game at several points. The Knights led 14-0 only to give up a 70-yard touchdown pass, then took a 20-7 lead only to watch Gregori score two straight TDs to take a 21-20 lead in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Downey scored a touchdown to take a 26-21 lead, then got the ball right back after a successful onside kick. Peterson hit Jairol Harris-Red for a 38-yard TD pass and the Knights led 32-21.
Downey coach Jeremy Plaa was down but not discouraged after the Knights watched Avina and Gregori rally.
“I’m just disappointed for the kids,” Plaa said. “It’s just hard.”
After a 10-0 season and as a league champion, it looks probable the Jaguars will host a playoff game. The Sac-Joaquin Section will announce the brackets today at 4 p.m.
“It should be rocking next week at Gregori,” McCoy said.