The Modesto High Panthers walked to the line of scrimmage Friday night 4 yards from victory with 3 seconds left.
The Downey defense shouted, in effect, “No.”
The quick 4th-down pass from quarterback Nate Phillips to Kendall McNair fell low and short at the goal line, as about 3,500 screamed at Chuck Hughes Stadium. The Downey students rushed onto the field to celebrate a wild 35-32 victory.
“I was so satisfied before that last play that I detached myself,” Downey coach Jeremy Plaa said. “I just thought, ‘I’m was so satisfied with the we played that I can’t blame the kids if we lost.’ The other team was pretty good.”
The showdown game lived up to its billing, and more, as Downey (6-0, 2-0) stayed unbeaten and took control of the Modesto Metro Conference race. The crowd rose to its feet for the final dramatic series, no doubt bringing sweet memories to the 17 honored players of the first Downey-Modesto game 60 years ago this month.
Modesto’s kicking game hasn’t proved reliable this season, thus the decision by coach Rich Alkire to roll the dice for the win.
“We can’t even make an extra point. We missed five PATs last week,” coach Rich Alkire said. “There was no question. We were going to go for it.”
Modesto (4-2, 1-1), once again, fell behind 14-0 – the Panthers never led – but answered with tenacity.
Undersized quarterbacks P.J. Wilson of Downey and Phillips delivered major thrills all night, as expected. Both led opposing defenses on often futile chases as they dashed to daylight on both planned rushes and crowd-pleasing scrambles.
Phillips rushed for 154 yards on 17 carries, including a 48-yard straight-down-the-field rip for Modesto’s first touchdown, and also passed for 189 yards and a 7-yard TD to Will Gallo. That brought the Panthers to within 35-32 in the fourth quarter. Gallo (4 catches, 65 yards), Phillips’ favorite receiver, was slowed by sore ankles and used sparingly on offense.
Wilson gained 50 yards on the ground and passed for 170 yards, featuring two touchdown passes to sophomore Isaiah Larry and a third to senior Jakob Magana.
The play by Magana, however, arguably won the game. It happened on the final play of the first half, an 18-yard “Hail Mary” that vaulted the Downey lead to 21-12. Wilson bought some time and tossed to a small army of players on the end line, where Magana snagged the deflection as he fell out-of-bounds.
Simply, Magana, 5-foot-8 and 135 pounds, was the difference-maker this night. When the Panthers pulled to 29-26 late in the third quarter, Magana, who intercepted three passes last week against Beyer, took the kickoff on the bounce and sped almost without breaking stride 74 yards for the points Downey desperately needed at the end.
Add that to Magana’s kickoff returns of 43 and 37 yards earlier in the half and his interception in the end zone to douse Modesto’s early threat.
“I coached Jakob in baseball, too, and he’s a great centerfielder. He’s so smart,” Plaa said. “He plays with every pound and every inch. I was he was a junior.”
Still, Modesto didn’t back off. Running back Tre Ingram, whose 33-yard scoop-and-score on defense energized the Panthers late in the first half, scored on runs of 10 and 16 yards during the third quarter.
Downey’s raw aggression started immediately with an onside kick recovered by Tylino Wesley. Five plays later, Downey jumped in front on an easy 5-yard romp up the middle by Malcome Green. On the PAT, Green delivered a nifty deuce off the swinging gate.
“We got beat on special teams. We were pathetic and they were pretty good,” Alkire said.
Regardless, it came to one play – the last.
“Both teams are solid. The teams can score and have y