TRACY -- No one can prove this, but let’s assume: No football team in the Sac-Joaquin Section sang the postgame alma mater with more joy and emotion Friday night than the Downey High Knights.
And why not? They deserved to raise their voices after shocking everyone, maybe even themselves, by knocking off Tracy 27-10, a team that humbled the Knights 43-13 on Sept. 15. Downey, seeded 10th in Division II, provided drama seldom seen in the first round en route to one of the most ringing postseason victories in school history.
“I did not hear a word on the bus coming over here tonight. We were so focused,” Downey coach Jeremy Plaa said. “We had a second chance.”
The Knights (10-1) parlayed their second chance into a quarterfinals meeting next week at No. 2 seed Rocklin, where they will be bigger longshots than they were at Wayne Schneider Stadium. For now, Downey is just happy to advance. The Knights are playing on house money.
“The victory was earned,” said senior receiver Joe Ramirez, who scored two touchdowns, the second when he leaped into the end zone after a game-clinching 20-yard romp with 5:39 left. “Our theme this week was redemption. We definitely came in with a chip on our shoulder.”
The win was hardly a fluke. Downey never trailed and appeared to be the more locked-in team. The Knights didn’t even mind all the 43-13 signs decorating the Tracy bleachers, though they did take one of them home as a souvenir.
The seeds to the upset were planted on the game’s first series. Tracy’s ill-advised fake-punt from its own 32-yard line soon was turned into points. Downey successfully deployed one of its favorite deceptions for the second straight week. Quarterback Carson Lamb launched a fake-sweep and fake-trap, then tossed over the top 27 yards to Ramirez for the touchdown.
Tracy (4-7), the No. 7 seed which forfeited the Downey victory and three others last week (ineligible player), responded with a long march featuring its ringleader quarterback Aidan Van Os. But Downey twice stuffed the Bulldogs’ triple-option attack only a few feet from the goal line. Tracy’s short field goal accounted for its only points on offense.
Early in the second quarter, Downey again denied Tracy, this time forcing a fumble on fourth down at the Knights’ 3-yard line.
In fact, Tracy’s only touchdown happened after a good punt was downed at the Knights’ 1. Second slater, the Bulldogs’ David Goularte scooped up a fumble and took one step into the end zone. Tracy drew even 10-10 with 3:12 left in the half.
Undaunted, Downey played through the error. A long march led to Jacob Wallace’s second short field goal, this one a 20-yarder as the first-half clock expired. The Knights were ahead to stay.
“Our defensive staff put together a heck of a game plan,” Plaa said. “We basically decided that if they were going to beat us, it won’t be with the dive.”
Tracy’s run-heavy flexbone, a deceptive triple-option attack, gashed Downey all night via the first option in September. The Knights adjusted effectively, switching from a three-man line to four -- playing to a team strength – and also heaped constant pressure on Van Os.
The result: Six sacks on Tracy quarterbacks as Derrick Kirkendall, Jack Hinchey Ismael Lopez, Noah Sacuskie, Jeremy Skeen and others beat a path to Van Os. Tracy, which rolled to 517 yards during the first meeting, totaled only 238 in the rematch. Six painful turnovers and 11 penalties further stalled the Bulldogs.
“I don’t know if the moment got too big for us,” Tracy coach Jeff Pribble said. “Too many mistakes.”
Tracy’s hopes worsened when Van Os exited the game late in the third quarter with what was believed to be a shoulder or collar bone injury. He was replaced by Juan Godoy, a sophomore call-up from the JV team who made his varsity debut in the cauldron of the postseason. Tracy managed only four first downs from that point.
Downey, encouraged by Tracy’s missed field goal in the third quarter, answered with an 80-yard eight-play drive capped by Kirkendall’s plunge from the 2.
For the first time since the season opener, the Knights took the field with two important players at their optimum spots – Lamb at quarterback and a healthy Ramirez at receiver. Ramirez absorbed a beating at quarterback as the replacement for the injured Lamb during the first Tracy game. Lamb completed only eight passes for 133 yards but frustrated the Tracy defense with possession-extending scrambles.
“I’m pretty shocked, but I had confidence,” Hinchey said. “It seemed like everybody knew what they were doing, especially after the last time.”
The win was Downey’s first in the bracket since 2018 and, more important, an emphatic statement after years of playoff disappointment. Who knew the Central California Athletic League runner-up would reach the quarterfinals?
“I know our division is really thick and Rocklin is going to be a great team next week,” Plaa said. “But we welcome them. Let’s go up there and let’s see.”
Downey 27, Tracy 10
D—Joe Ramirez 27 pass from Carson Lamb (Jacob Wallace kick)
T—FG Oluwasemilore Akinleye 20
D—FG Wallace 27
T—David Goularte 1 fumble return (Akinleye kick)
D—FG Wallace 20
D--Derrick Kirkendall 2 run (Wallace kick)
D—Ramirez 20 run (Wallace kick)
Records—Downey 10-1, Tracy 4-7