Quarterback Club: Downey on a roll since 'wake-up call' against Manteca

Ron Agostini

MODESTO -- “Improvement” only begins to describe the Downey Knights after five games.

Downey’s season kicked off with a football nightmare – a 40-0 deficit at Manteca after 18 minutes. The Knights yielded five touchdowns and five two-point conversions in quick order, and veteran coach Jeremy Plaa wondered if it could get any worse.

Since then, Downey’s progress chart has pointed only upward. The Knights’ 70th football team, 4-1 going into its homecoming game and Central California Athletic League opener Friday night against Modesto, has become one of the more fascinating stories of the early season.

“Ever since the Manteca loss, it was a wakeup call to our kids…a gut-check,” Plaa said Monday after the Modesto Quarterback Club’s weekly luncheon. “They came back Monday after that game and decided that wasn’t them.”

Downey actually stabilized during that 46-19 loss against Manteca. A 40-25 victory over Merced signaled a switch in direction and Friday’s 23-21 decision over Lincoln – a team featuring Division I talent – resonated around the valley.

The Knights did not trail that night and closed the game with clutch first downs. Junior quarterback Conner Stoddard passed for 215 yards and running backs Elijah Stine, Kimoni Ragland and Derrick Kirkendall assisted to keep the explosive Lincoln offense on the bench.

Downey’s special teams also contributed. Kicker Elijah Reyneveld converted all three extra points while Lincoln missed three field goals, including one from 53 yards before halftime that fell barely short.

The defense, anchored by end Tyler Sanchez and safety Cayden Edmiston, came through with its best game to date.

“Our kids have gotten better every week. The maturity process is happening really quickly right now,” Plaa said. “It (the win over Lincoln) did big things for our confidence and maturity level. Our kids want bigger things.”

Notes – Johansen High graduate Mike Thiessen, the offensive coordinator for eight seasons at Air Force, could be a candidate for the head coaching job at Georgia Southern of the Sun Belt Conference. The Eagles fired fifth-year coach Chad Lunsford over the weekend after a 1-3 start. Thiessen, a former quarterback and two-sport star at Air Force, has coached there for 15 years and engineers one of the nation’s leading rushing attacks. …

Livingston (4-2, 1-1) proved its bona fides in the Trans Valley League the past two weeks. Though a late two-possession lead slipped away in a 28-24 loss to Hilmar, the Wolves answered with a 27-0 victory over Hughson. Livingston has the week off while Hilmar and Escalon collide Friday night. … Modesto Junior College (3-1) bounced back from its loss to City College of San Francisco with a 38-17 victory at Butte. The Pirates pulled away in the second half via a 97-yard pick six by Zelmar Vedder. MJC travels to College of San Mateo’s scenic hilltop stadium Saturday afternoon to meet the 4-0 Bulldogs. …

MJC’s 1980 football team, which went 11-0 and was ranked No. 1 in the nation at season’s end, will gather for a reunion on Friday, Oct. 16, at 1 p.m. at the Dust Bowl in Turlock. … Enochs (4-0) is the opponent for Gregori’s homecoming Friday night. The Eagles haven’t beaten the Jaguars (2-3) since 2013. “We have to earn some respect,” Enochs coach Tracey Traub said. “That’s what we’re working on."