From left, coaches James Peterson of Turlock (vs. Freedom), Jeremy Plaa of Downey (at East Union) and Roger Canepa of Central Catholic (vs. Clovis West) have tough opening night tests, but the most intriguing game on Aug. 23, 2019 belongs to Oakdale-Sonora, according to a fan vote.

'Bold or just bald?' Downey will remain in the hunt for the CCAL title with upset

James Burns
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Under head coach Jeremy Plaa, the Downey football program has developed into one of the most successful public-school programs in the southern half of the Sac-Joaquin Section.

The Knights won five consecutive Modesto Metro Conference championships from 2012 to 2016, and narrowly missed out on a record-tying sixth straight crown last fall. While the move into the Central California Athletic League brought new competition, No. 5 Downey (5-3, 2-1) finds itself in familiar territory with two weeks left in the regular season.

The Knights can put themselves in the running for a CCAL crown on Friday with an upset victory over No. 3 Pitman (8-0, 3-0), one of just two unbeaten large-school programs in the region. 

Downey's Bronson England evades a tackle during a 20-14 victory over Modesto City Schools rival Gregori on Oct. 12, 2018. (Daniel Harris Photography)

After a soft nonconference schedule, the Pride have overcome stiff challenges from Modesty City Schools counterparts, Gregori and Modesto. Now comes the biggest, baddest program in the MCS system.

The Knights have won two of the last three meetings with Pitman, including a 41-20 victory last season. In that game, Downey forced six turnovers, including three interceptions, and scored three rushing touchdowns.

To topple the Pride, the Knights, a program renowned for its "Air Raid" passing offense, will have to summon a similiar performance against quarterback Treyton Fair and running backs Payton Bass and Jakob Partida, both on track for 1,000-yard seasons, and hope quick-twitch running back Jordan Wilson and Robert Rivera can provide balance.

And a chance at a piece of the inaugural CCAL crown.

Pitman and intracity rival Turlock (5-3, 3-0) sit atop the league table and tickets went on sale this week in advance of their Harvest Bowl meeting in Week 10. The Bulldogs host Gregori (4-4, 1-2) this week.

It's the second consecutive week, the Downey Knights face a win-or-else scenario in the CCAL race.

So, will there a playoff-like atomosphere Friday night at Chuck Hughes Stadium?

"Not a playoff game," said Downey coach Jeremy Plaa, who has guided the Knights to eight consecutive playoff appearances. "But we feel like we are playing for a league title. Our backs are against the wall. I think our kids are very focused on the league title before playoffs.

Can Downey pull off the upset? Or will Pitman and Turlock set up a winner-take-all Harvest Bowl with victories this week? Here's a look at our Week 9 predictions:

WEEK 9

Friday, Oct. 19
CENTRAL CALIFORNIA ATHLETIC LEAGUE

Pitman at Downey, 7 p.m. Burns: Downey Cortez: Downey
Gregori at Turlock 7 p.m. Burns: Turlock Cortez: Turlock

CENTRAL CALIFORNIA CONFERENCE
Buhach Colony at Golden Valley, 7 p.m. Burns: Buhach Colony Cortez: Buhach Colony
Central Valley at El Capitan, 7 p.m. Burns: Central Valley Cortez: Central Valley
Merced at Atwater, 7 p.m. Burns: Merced Cortez: Merced

CENTRAL CALIFORNIA ATHLETIC ALLIANCE
Big Valley Christian at Brookside Christian, 7 p.m. Burns: BVC Cortez: BVC
Delta Charter at Stone Ridge Christian, 7 p.m. Burns: SRC Cortez: SRC

MOTHER LODE LEAGUE
Summerville at Amador, 7 p.m. Burns: Amador Cortez: Amador
Argonaut at Bret Harte, 7 p.m. Burns: Argonaut Cortez: Argonaut
Sonora at Calaveras, 7 p.m. Burns: Sonora Cortez: Sonora

SOUTHERN LEAGUE
Denair at Mariposa, 7:15 p.m. Burns: Denair Cortez: Denair
Orestimba at Delhi, 7:15 p.m. Burns: Orestimba Cortez: Orestimba
Ripon Christian at Le Grand, 7:15 p.m. Burns: Ripon Christian Cortez: Ripon Christian
Waterford at Gustine, 7:15 p.m. Burns: Waterford Cortez: Waterford

TRANS-VALLEY LEAGUE
Livingston at Escalon, 7:30 p.m. Burns: Escalon Cortez: Escalon
Hilmar at Riverbank, 7:30 p.m., Burns: Hilmar Cortez: Hilmar
Hughson at Ripon, 7:30 p.m. Burns: Ripon Cortez: Ripon

VALLEY OAK LEAGUE
Central Catholic at Kimball, 7 p.m. Burns: Central Catholic Cortez: Central Catholic
East Union at Weston Ranch, 7 p.m. Burns: East Union Cortez: East Union
Sierra at Manteca, 7 p.m. Burns: Manteca Cortez: Manteca

WESTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
Davis vs. Johansen (at Gregori H.S.) Burns: Davis Cortez: Davis
Lathrop at Los Banos, 7 p.m. Burns: Los Banos Cortez: Los Banos
Ceres at Mountain House, 7 p.m. Burns: Mountain House Cortez: Mountain House
Pacheco at Beyer (at Johansen H.S.), 7 p.m. Burns: Pacheco Cortez: Pacheco

PREVIOUS WEEKS
Week 0: Burns, 29-6. Cortez, 26-9.
Week 1: Burns, 22-10. Cortez, 21-11.
Week 2: Burns, 23-7. Cortez, 25-5.
Week 3: Burns, 20-10. Cortez 23-7.
Week 4: Burns 26-2. Cortez 24-4.
Week 5: Burns 22-2. Cortez 23-1.
Week 6: Burns 21-3. Cortez 22-2.
Week 7: Burns 23-2. Cortez 23-2.
Week 8: Burns 22-2. Cortez 20-4.

SEASON
Burns, 207-45. Cortez, 207-45.

Follow James Burns on Twitter @jburns1980, or email him at frontrowpreps@gmail.com.