MODESTO – The Downey High Knights enjoyed one of those feel-good Fridays: Two wins, many smiles on Senior Night and a bumper crop of joy from a play called “Big Worm.”
Here’s how good it went for the Knights: “Big Worm” is Downey hocus-pocus, a fake-sweep and fake-trap followed by Carson Lamb’s 32-yard pass to a quite alone Daley Holmes for the Knights’ first touchdown.
Unofficial rule: When “Big Worm” works, it’s going to be a good night for the boys in blue. They romped 38-20 over Gregori to end the regular season, and there’s still a chance they could return to Chuck Hughes Stadium for a first-round game in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs.
“Great first half, sloppy second half,“ Downey coach Jeremy Plaa correctly assessed. For the record, he liked “Big Worm.” “We got the safeties to bite,” he said. “We run it all the time, every day in practice.”
Quarterback Carson Lamb, appearing in only his seventh game, completed 15 of his first 17 passes en route to 290 yards, two touchdowns and a conversion. He and the Knights scorched Gregori downfield, and Holmes – the backup to injured receiver Joe Ramirez – caught his first two scoring passes of the season.
Downey (9-1, 4-1), which secured second place behind Central California Athletic League champion Turlock, missed a short field goal, then raced to touchdowns on five straight possessions to lead 35-6 at the break. Game over.
“We’ve bounced back right away,” Lamb said in reference to Downey’s two wins since the disappointing loss to Turlock. “I’m feeling good. As a team, we need to tidy up a few things for the playoffs.”
As it turns out, that loss to Turlock is Downey’s only blemish. Earlier Friday, the Knights learned that Tracy – which toppled the Knights on Sept. 15 – was forced to forfeit the game plus three others for using an ineligible player.
Downey, currently seeded ninth in D-II, hopes to move up one notch to earn a home game in the first round. The section will announce the playoff pairings on Sunday.
“We did everything we could,” Plaa said.
Downey’s momentum was almost tangible in the first half. Its second touchdown, a 29-yard wrap-around draw to Marcus Cruz, broke wide open.
Its third TD, a one-yard plunge by defense star Derrick Kirkendall, was preceded by a blocked punt by Ismael Lopez and Lamb’s 53-yard pass to the 1 to Ethan Woodmansee (7 catches, 126 yards, 2-pointer).
The Knights’ wave continued to roll on an interception (the first of three by the Knights) and 55-yard return by Antwain Harper. Elijah Tamayo tacked on the 3-yard TD. Downey closed the run when Lamb found Holmes beyond the coverage for a 29-yard score.
The final score partially disguised Downey’s dominance. Gregori, outgained 427-183, managed only four first downs over the first three quarters. Michael Marsden, the Jaguars’ hard-working running back (19 carries, 117 yards, TD) raced by his cheering bench 97 yards on a kickoff return to close the Gregori deficit to 7-6. That was the Jaguars’ only points before two late touchdowns.
“We had some early opportunities and missed ‘em,” Gregori coach Lamar Wallace assessed. “We turned the ball over and got behind the 8-ball…Can’t do that against a good football team.”
Gregori (7-3, 3-2) finished third in the CCAL and, like Downey, anxiously awaits Sunday’s pairings. The Jaguars are projected as a 10th seed in Division I, which wound send them on the road. A better result against Downey would have helped.
Then again, Downey isn’t exactly an easy mark. The Knights’ offense always is prolific, but its defense this season at times has been stout. The Knights’ front line – rangy ends Kirkendall and John Hinchey and linemen Lopez and Ryne Moore – contained Marsden and harassed quarterback Conner Bailey.
The 6-foot-2 Kirkendall, who set Downey’s career sack record last week, added one against Gregori to make it 17 ½.
“Our team has come up lately,” said Kirkendall, who’s starting to attract interest from four-year schools. “I have high hopes. We’re tired of losing in the first round.”
After days like Friday, Downey likes its chances.
Downey 38, Gregori 20
Gregori 6-0-0-14 – 20
Downey 15-20-3-0– 38
D – Daley Holmes 32 pass from Carson Lamb (Jacob Wallace kick)
G – Michael Marsden 97 kickoff return (kick blocked)
D – Marcus Cruz 29 run (Ethan Woodmansee pass from Lamb)
D – Derrick Kirkendall 1 run (run failed)
D – Elijah Tamayo 3 run (Wallace kick)
D—Holmes 29 pass from Lamb (Wallace kick)
D – FG Wallace 31
G – Marsden 10 run (Jace Guzman kick)
G – Trey Webb 29 pass from Emmanuel Vasquez (Guzman kick)
Records – Gregori 7-3, 3-2 CCAL; Downey 9-1, 4-1 CCAL.
JV – Gregori 9-0