Downey’s Robert Rivera
Senior Robert Rivera is listed at 5 feet, 7 inches tall and 150 pounds on the Downey roster. However, Knights coach Jeremy Plaa admits Rivera is probably 140 pounds soaking wet.
Rivera proved one thing on Friday night: He can bounce back from a hit.
The running back caught a swing pass in the third quarter and never saw Merced cornerback Alfonso Gary coming as he crashed into Rivera with a violent hit that sent the Knights’ star running back to the turf.
“It felt like I hit a brick wall,” Rivera said. “I got the wind knocked out of me.”
Rivera caught his breath just in time, breaking free for two long touchdown runs in the fourth quarter, springing free for 70 and 54 yards, to help Downey (3-0) come from behind to defeat Merced 34-27 on Friday night at Veterans Stadium.
“That guy is one of our best players,” Plaa said. “We rely on him. Unfortunately, the first thing you immediately think about is concussion when you see a hit like that. You’re almost relieved when you know he just got the wind knocked out of him.”
Merced (1-2) showed improvement after turning the ball over nine times in its first two games this season.
The Bears controlled the ball and took a 21-12 lead into the half as sophomore Seth Scheidt threw a touchdown and ran for one.
Merced leaned on senior running back Desmond Thompson heavily as he finished with 27 carries for 117 yards and a touchdown.
The Bears ran 38 plays in the first half to just 13 by the Knights.
“The first thing is we just had one turnover tonight and for us that’s huge,” said Merced coach Rob Scheidt. “It still came at an inopportune time because we had a great drive going. But we were able to eliminate the turnovers and control the football.”
While the Bears defense sacked Downey quarterback Bryce Gouker four times, the Knights hurt Merced with the big play.
Gouker connected on three long touchdown passes. He found Joseph Easterwood on a 38-yard touchdown on Downey’s second offensive play of the game.
Gouker hooked up with Lawrence Harris for touchdown passes of 66 and 71 yards. Gouker completed 9 of 11 passes for 212 yards. Harris caught three balls for 139 yards.
It was Rivera who delivered the big plays late as he finished with 142 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries.
“They were stopping me in the first half and most of the third quarter,” Rivera said. “It felt great to get those runs to help my team get the win.”