Downey quarterback Joe Ramirez began the season as a wide receiver, but he's moved under center with Carson Lamb out with a hand injury. (Sammy Cervantes)

No Lamb, no problem: Ramirez leads 3-0 Downey over Merced

Ron Agostini

MODESTO – It’s tempting to think the Downey High Knights can just pull a quarterback off the assembly line whenever needed, and the replacement produces touchdowns like spreadsheets.

But let the record show that when No. 1 QB Carson Lamb was injured, his favorite receiver Joe Ramirez did his best impression of Carson Lamb.

Ramirez, a 6-foot-2 junior with speed – more on that later – dominated all the important parts off Downey’s efficient 42-6 victory over Merced on Friday night at Chuck Hughes Stadium.

Simply, Ramirez checked all the boxes. He threw for 217 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 180 yards. His most audacious move, a 91-yard scoring dash straight down the field after a fake to running back Marcuz Cruz, sealed the victory early in the fourth quarter.

Downey High quarterback Joe Ramirez waits for the snap in a 42-6 victory over Merced on Sept. 1, 2023. Ramirez was electric in the win, throwing for 217 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for another 180 yards. (Sammy Cervantes)

“I’ve been taking it slow, trying to just learn,” said Ramirez, a former JV quarterback. “I got big shoes to fill with Carson gone. I’m excited trying to get the job done the best I can.”

So far, so good. Lamb, who threw five touchdown passes and rushed for another in an impressive varsity debut against Lincoln, incurred a broken knuckle in his throwing hand during training two days later. He’s missed the last two games, and coach Jeremy Plaa believes his chances to play against a very good Hughson team next week are slim.

No matter, at least according to the Downey quarterback-making company. Ramirez’s elusiveness defined its win over Merced.  He can throw when it’s called for, but it’s his speed that catches the eye. He, Lamb and receiver Ethan Woodmansee all run on the Knights’ swift 4-by-100 relay team.

“The offense is coming back to him,” Plaa said in referencet o Ramirez’s progress. “At 3-0, we are a little ahead of where we thought we’d be.”

The Knights did not commit a turnover. Contrast that with Merced’s five turnovers that resulted in 21 Downey points. Defensive back Cody Pattee pounced on three fumbles before halftime to keep the momentum on the home team’s side.

“Our theme this week was ‘relentless in everything,’ and we answered the call,” Plaa said. “If you can hold Merced to six points, that’s a good night.”

Downey, explosive on its most quiet night, cannot be given that many chances. Seconds after one of the recovered fumbles, Ramirez looped a 22-yard pass to the corner of the end zone to Nathan Dip

Early in the second quarter, The Knights extended to 21-6 on more Ramirez magic. He somehow eluded a menacing Merced pass rush, stepped forward and to his right and then found sophomore slot Melo Thurman (7 catches, 98 yards) who raced home to complete the highlight-reel 39-yard TD.

Downey converted another Merced fumble, this one at the Bears’ 12 yard line, into a touchdown late in the half. Derrick Kirkendall punched in his second short-yardage score.

Merced (1-2), not unlike Downey with Lamb, seeks a more healthy roster. Running back Adarias Morales-saetern carried a heavy load and finished with 127 yards on 22 carries.  Quarterback Quintell Dupree accounted for Merced’s only touchdown.

Chase Smith, arguably the Bears’ best player, missed the game due to an elbow injury. He wasn’t alone on the sideline.

“We’re a work in progress. Sometimes that progress gets stymied by injury,” coach Rob Scheidt said. “That’s kind of where we’re at right now.”

Downey, which hits the road for three weeks after a 3-0 homestand, looks ahead in a different way. The Knights already have seen Plan A– Lamb throwing to Ramirez – and want to run that tape back. They begin the defense of their Central California Athletic Conference title on Sept. 29 against Pitman.

“I would hate to not have him (Lamb) back for league,” Plaa said.

Until then, the program with all those interchangeable parts will settle for the status quo with Ramirez.

Downey 42, Merced 6

Merced            0-6-0-0– 6

Downey    14-14-0-14—42

1st Quarter

D--Derrick Kirkendall 1 run (Jacob Wallace kick)

D—Nathan Dip 22 pass from Joe Ramirez (Wallace kick)

2nd Quarter

M—Quintell Dupree 1 run (kick failed)

D—Kirkendall 1 run (Wallace kick)

D—Melo Thurman 39 pass from Ramirez (Wallace kick)

4th Quarter

D—Ramirez 91 run (Wallace kick)

D—Ethan Woodmansee 52 pass from Ramirez (Wallace kick)

Records—Merced 1-2, Downey 3-0

JV—Merced, 34-31