Downey football coach Jeremy Play speaks to his team following a come-from-behind win at Lincoln of Stockton in their season opener. The Knights have climbed to No. 2 in the regional rankings after their 4-0 start. (Diego Hernandez)

QB club + rankings: #2 Downey prepares for Tracy in clash of regional unbeatens

Ron Agostini

MODESTO – Downey High football coach Jeremy Plaa was joking Monday when he said the triple-option offense “should be illegal.”

He did say it tongue in cheek. Sort of.

“Lodi runs it, too,” Plaa continued. “Tracy has a lot of speed and it looks like they have a lot of size upfront on their offensive line. … We have to make sure we’re ready for Tracy’s option attack.”

Friday night’s collision of 4-0 teams at Chuck Hughes Stadium, one of the most attractive matchups of the non-league season, will feature a clash of opposites. Tracy’s triple-option attack, choreographed by senior quarterback Cameron Ross (five passing touchdowns, six rushing TDs) demands strict assignment defense and quick recognition on who has the ball…or else.

Tracy no doubt will try to control the clock and keep the Knights’ free-wheeling Air Raid offense on the sideline.

“We weren’t able to practice much last week with the heat going on,” Plaa said during this week’s Modesto Quarterback Club lunch meeting. “This week we have to get to it in terms of practice.”

On game nights, Downey has been clicking. Last week’s 43-0 shutout over Beyer became another example why senior quarterback Conner Stoddard has matured into one of the area’s best. Stoddard passed for 274 yards and five touchdowns – two to Gabe Hernandez (eight catches, 152 yards), two to Gavin Garcia and one to Camden Rush. One of Hernandez’s receptions, an almost impossible twisting one-hander, was called by Plaa “the best I’ve seen in 27 years of coaching.”

Meanwhile, Stoddard’s accuracy remains first-rate. He’s completed 85 of 115 passes (74 percent) for 1,223 yards, 14 touchdowns against a single interception.

“He takes in everything we throw at him,” Plaa said. “He’s the best quarterback we’ve had here since Aaron Zwahlen.”

He refers to one of his assistant coaches who starred for Plaa’s Knights seven years ago.

Downey also rejoiced last week when Rush, a senior, committed to Dartmouth of the Ivy League. Rush’s father is Downey grad Trevor Rush, the 1988 Modesto Bee Stanislaus District Co-Player of the Year who played later for Cal State Fullerton.

“It pays homage to the type of kid he (Camden) is and the family he comes from,” Plaa said. “He’s the total package.”

NOTES – Modesto Christian coach Jerry Grimshaw hinted at the change two weeks ago and activated it last week. He promoted sophomore quarterback Ross Widemon and moved Raymond Corral Jr. to running back. It was good timing for Widemon, who broke in against an outmatched Delta Charter team. The Crusaders won 28-6 with the officials winding the clock after only one quarter. MC, 4-0 after only two wins the previous two seasons, will jump into the tough Trans-Valley League race Friday night at Ripon.  Widemon completed a 17-yard touchdown pass to Jeremiah Bernard last week while Corral, the former QB, dashed 67 yards for another score. …Ripon (2-2) will have a short week to prepare after its 49-12 victory over Calaveras on Monday night. The game was postponed due to poor air quality at San Andreas last week. ...

Gregori  (1-3), the featured team this week by the Modesto QB Club, brought five players, all of them four-year products of the football program:  Two-way lineman Dorian Ramirez, linebacker-tight end Nathan Dobbins, linebacker Joseph Benavidez, cornerback-receiver Ayden Powers and defensive end Xavier Gray. The Jaguars were penalized 14 times last week during a 27-6 loss at Livermore. “Our line was musical chairs the first two weeks,” said coach Lamar Wallace in reference to Gregori’s laboring with illnesses, injuries and the COVID virus. “I am proud of our guys for keeping on battling. We’ve had a tough non-league preparation for our league.” …

Modesto Junior College (2-1) recovered from its one-point loss to Laney via a 15-7 win on the road at Santa Rosa. The score was much closer than the final stats. The Pirates outgained the Bear Cubs 405-261 but didn’t take full advantage of their scoring chances. Instead, they relied on a defense which kept its opponent under 300 yards for the second straight week. MJC even notched a safety and set up another score on a fake-field-goal pass from Cruz Marines to Holden Baldwin. The Pirates’ assignment Saturday afternoon is daunting – a trip to the hilltop stadium at College of San Mateo (2-0), a venue and a team that has been tough on Modesto over the years. …

Big Valley Christian (0-2) will hold its homecoming and unveil its new stadium scoreboard Friday night against Encina Prep of Sacramento. The Lions’ game last week at Foresthill was cancelled due to the Mosquito Fire, which forced the evacuation of Foresthill. Coach Brian Berkefeld thought the Lions had arranged an 11th-hour replacement in Golden Sierra, only for the fire to threaten that school. …

Enochs (2-2) will have the week off after it snapped a two-game losing streak by beating Central Valley 31-6.  Aiden Muhammad, who rushed for 184 yards and a touchdown, has totaled 365 yards and four touchdowns this season. … Central Catholic’s grueling preseason brought improvement, along with more pain, during last week’s 42-30 loss at Junipero Serra of San Mateo. Tyler Wentworth intercepted a pass which led to a touchdown and an early 9-0 lead before the Padres took charge. Trace Hernandez, the Raiders’ best corner and wide receiver, incurred a non-contact meniscus injury that will sideline him indefinitely. The Raiders (1-3) badly need this week’s bye before they travel to Bellflower for another major test against national powerhouse St. John Bosco. …

Modesto (2-2), overpowered 76-27 by Patterson, will have a better chance Friday night at Sierra of Manteca. The Panthers’ pass-catch tandem of Eli McCabe to receiver Heston Blom continued against the Tigers (two touchdowns and 117 yards in reception).  Garrett Bidwell, a senior, has become a threat as a return man.

Large school rankings

1. Manteca 4-0 (at Damonte Ranch, Nev., Sat.).

2. Downey 4-0 (vs.Tracy).

3. Central Catholic 1-3 (idle).

4. Oakdale 2-1 (at Miramonte).

t-5. Merced 1-3 (vs. Atwater).

t-5. Turlock 1-3 (at Clayton Valley Charter).

Small school rankings

1. Escalon 3-1 (vs. Hughson).

2. Sonora 3-1 (vs. West).

3. Patterson 3-1 (vs. El Capitan).

4. Summerville 4-0 (idle).

t-5. Hughson 3-1 (at Escalon).

t-5. Modesto Christian 4-0 (at Ripon).