Before the season, Downey High football coach Jeremy Plaa spoke highly of the speed, physicality and football IQ of his defensive line.
Friday night in the season finale on senior night against Gregori with the Central California Athletic League’s second spot on the line, the defensive line held the No. 2 rusher in the Sac-Joaquin Section to an off night. For three quarters, the offense was just as good as the defense, helping the Knights secure their fourth league win, 38-20.
The defensive line, led by Derrick Kirkendall and Jack Hinchey, held Marsden to just 34 first half rushing yards and held him under his yards per game average of 172 yards.
“It just took speed and recognizing their plays to the best of our ability,” Hinchey said, “and going 100 percent every play.”
The Knights’ secondary was stellar as well, forcing three interceptions. Antwain Harper came away with the first takeaway, returning it 54 yards to set Downey up at the Gregori three yard line. Antonio Vizcaino came away with the second and Ezekiel Toledo’s second half interception kept a marching Gregori team out of the end zone in the fourth quarter.
“The defense has been playing well all year,” Downey coach Jeremy Plaa said. “They don’t get a lot of the attention because the offense puts up all the points and the defense does the rest. … They’re playing really well.”
The Knights did most of their scoring in the first half, putting up 28 unanswered points to take a 35-6 lead into halftime.
In the past couple of weeks, Joseph Ramirez was just starting to feel 100% after separating his shoulder earlier in the season. Monday, he bruised his collarbone and was forced to miss the final regular season game.
Enter Daley Holmes.
Filling in for Ramirez, the 6-foot-3 junior caught five passes for 81 yards and two touchdowns from quarterback Carson Lamb. Lamb did not key in on just two receivers. The ball found the open man on screen passes to running backs, intermediate routes and long tosses down the field. He completed 19 of 25 passes for 271 yards and a pair of passing touchdowns. He also picked up key first downs with his legs. Ethan Woodmansee continued his stellar season, finishing with six catches for 103 yards. Marcus Cruz and Elijah Tamayo scored on first half rushing touchdowns of 29 and three yards, respectively. Derrick Kirkendall also rushed for a one-yard score.
“A lot of people think our offense is built around calling a pass play and throwing to a guy, but the offense is built around Carson making good decisions,” Plaa said. “We joked around in practice this week like ‘Start Daley on your fantasy team because he’s going to get two touchdowns’ and tonight he did. He got a chance to play, next man up and he did great.”
A 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by senior running back Michael Marsden was the lone highlight for the Jaguars in the first half.
Downey’s defensive line disrupted Gregori’s usually strong run game, holding Marsden to 34 first half rushing yards. The Jaguars also threw a pair of first half interceptions.
Marsden gained 68 rushing yards in the second half to finish with 102 yards on 18 carries, his ninth 100-plus yard rushing game this season. He also was a threat in the passing game, catching screen passes from backup quarterback Emmanuel Vasquez.
Vasquez rebounded from a fourth quarter interception, finding Trey Webb in the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown pass, capping a stretch of 14 unanswered points for the game’s final touchdown. During that run, the Jaguars’ special teams kept them in the game. They recovered a muffed punt and a muffed onside kick.
“We got behind the eight ball early and had a tough time coming back from it,” Gregori coach Lamar Wallace said. “But the guys kept battling.”
Both teams headed to postseason
The Knights received a gift in the form of an extra win Friday afternoon when Tracy had to forfeit its first four non-league wins after playing a player that was required to abide by the Sac-Joaquin Section’s transfer sit out period rule.
Downey originally lost the game 43-13, but when the ruling was posted on the section’s website and the loss was credited as a win by forfeit on MaxPreps, it became official, the Knights will enter the postseason with a 9-1 record.
“(I was) kind of shocked today, I feel bad for Tracy,” Plaa said. “Our theme of the week was enthusiastic, so we were enthusiastic that maybe we were going to catch a break heading into the playoffs.”
Downey’s lone loss was its league contest against Turlock. After scoring the game’s first 11 points, the Knights gave up 24 unanswered points to the Bulldogs, who compete in the Division I bracket. That game ended up deciding the league. Turlock earned the league championship with a 5-0 record. Downey was 4-1 against CCAL opponents.
“We just didn’t have our best game against Turlock and they played well,” Plaa said. “We’re ending season two right now. League is season two, preseason is season one and now we’re getting ready to head into season three. When we show up on Monday, it’s going to be a whole new season with a whole new attitude, a whole new feel.”
Gregori is the No. 10 ranked team in Division I according to CalPreps and while a win heading into the postseason could have helped increase its seed, the Jaguars earned an extra game along with a third seed in the CCAL. They finish the regular season 7-3 with losses coming to Merced, Turlock and Downey, all projected playoff teams.
The Jaguars have qualified for the postseason every season since 2014. This season, they will hope for their first playoff win since 2017.
“Our boys know it’s not over,” Wallace said. “It’s a minor setback, but we have to keep pushing and they’re up for the challenge. This is one of the hardest working groups I’ve had.”