MERCED – It wasn’t long ago that a field goal was a distant option for Downey High football coach Jeremy Plaa.
On Friday, it was part of the winning formula for the red-hot Knights.
Senior Elijah Reyneveld, who goes by the nickname “La Bota,” may be the missing link in the Knights’ plan for a long Sac-Joaquin Section playoff run. Reyneveld completed an all-hands-on-deck effort on Friday evening with an 18-yard game-winning field goal in the waning seconds of an intense 17-14 non-league showdown with Merced High.
Reyneveld’s heroics came after an earlier miss and it keeps the third-ranked Knights undefeated on the season, a run that includes road victories over large-school playoff and league contenders. On opening night, Downey (3-0) roared back from a double-digit deficit to stun Lincoln of Stockton, and then pummeled East Union of Manteca last week.
“I kept doubting myself, but Plaa said I’m not defined by my mistakes,” said Reyneveld. “I cleared my mind … and everything was pandemonium from there.”
Though each team possessed electric offenses, the game began slowly. Both defenses forced turnovers inside the first 10 minutes. Downey’s offense was the first to show signs of life when Gavin Garcia completed a long throw-and-catch, moving the Knights into the red zone. Moments later, quarterback Connor Stoddard carried the ball into the end zone from the 5 to make it 7-0 with 56 seconds left in the first quarter.
“We need to keep playing to our strengths, and we’ve got to keep pushing,” Plaa said.
Needing a boost on fourth and long, Merced was able to convert a successful punt fake into a first down. A 25-yard pass from running back Chase Smith to quarterback Carter Haugen set up an eventual 1-yard touchdown from Smith to tie the game with less than 3 minutes left in the half.
“A combination of a stout defensive line, improved secondary, and coachable linebackers are helping us play real well this year,” Bears coach Rob Scheidt said.
A long run after the catch from sophomore Ethan Woodmansee set up a 48-yard touchdown by sophomore Joseph Ramirez with about 10 minutes left in the third quarter.
Downey’s defense helped preserve the victory and set the stage for Reyneveld’s heroics with a goal-line stand in the third quarter. Merced drove to the Knights’ 5-yard line, but the boys in blue dug in, forcing a turnover on downs with 5:31 left in the third quarter.
The Downey coaching staff called it their best defensive effort of the season.
“We played a quality opponent with a good defense, and it was evident that we were going to have a dog-fight out there,” defensive coordinator DeShon Benton said.
After Merced tied the game on a 26-yard passing touchdown by senior receiver Jeremiah Folau, on a brilliant stop-and-go route, Downey’s Kimoni Ragland positioned the Knights for yet another impressive road win. His 20-yard catch highlighted a three-minute drive that set up Reyneveld’s chip shot.
“I just want to help everybody be as good as possible, and bring us all together as a team,” said Ragland.
The Knights look to enjoy their first game at home since November of 2021 for homecoming against crosstown rival Beyer, while the Bears venture north to face Monterey Trail of Elk Grove.