Downey running back Robert Rivera (25) follows the block of Logan Wong during a come-from-behind victory over Merced on Sept. 6, 2019. (Daniel Harris Photography)

A Friday first: Escalon and Downey engage in Knights' homecoming

Ron Agostini

The Downey High Knights and the Escalon Cougars never have met in a varsity football game – until Friday night.

It’s an unusual matchup, for sure, but one that promises some excitement. Escalon, the Trans-Valley League power that is No. 1 in’s small-schools rankings, relies on its punishing Wing-T. Downey wheels in the area’s most lethal passing attack.

Another thing: It’s the only collision of 3-0 teams this week in the Sac-Joaquin Section. Kickoff for Downey’s homecoming game is 7 o’clock at Chuck Hughes Stadium.

“There’s been a lot of teaching and a lot of learning going on,” Escalon second-year coach Andrew Beam said. “Downey does more things than any team we’ve faced.”

Downey senior quarterback Bryce Gouker has 14 touchdown passes in three games, all wins for the fourth-ranked Knights. (Daniel Harris Photography)

Beam and Downey coach Jeremy Plaa agreed to a one-off contract, the Cougars’ final non-league test before their TVL showdown Sept. 27 at Hilmar.

The game actually packs more intrigue than the on-paper run-first Cougars vs. the pass-first Knights.  For starters, Escalon has shown a balanced offense with quarterback Ty Harris’ seven touchdown passes. Downey answers with the relentless 150-pound running back Robert Rivera, who’s already rushed for 343 yards and has scored nine TDs (eight on the ground).

“I think it’s a classic matchup,” Plaa said at Monday’s meeting of the Modesto Quarterback Club. “Escalon is a good program and has some big guys. We’re expecting a tough game.”

Escalon has rolled to all three victories, including last week’s 35-13 win over Sonora. Conversely, Downey has rallied from behind twice to beat Manteca 54-48 in overtime and, last week, 34-27 at Merced.

Escalon has found balance with quarterback Ty Harris, a junior who started a playoff game a season ago.

The Cougars’ chances diminish if they try to match touchdowns with Downey. Keeping the ball away from the Knights, ranked fourth in the’s large-schools list, probably is their key.

Downey senior quarterback Bryce Gouker already has thrown for nearly 1,000 yards and has tossed 14 touchdown passes against only one interception. He’s surrounded by senior talent: Rivera and receivers Lawrence Harris (498 yards in receptions, eight TDs), Joseph Easterwood and Bronson England.

That’s more than enough of a challenge for an Escalon defense featuring two-way stars Luke Anderson, Kade Christensen and David Camacho.

“It’ll be a tremendous test for our kids. We’re not afraid by any means,” Beam said. “It will prepare us for the TVL and potentially for the playoffs.”