Playing another Stanislaus District power, Downey coach Jeremy Plaa knew his team would need a near-perfect performance to beat high-powered Merced.
The Knights put up 44 points for the second straight week, but costly mistakes and turnovers — and a long drive by the Bears at the end of the game — led Merced to a 47-44 victory Friday at Chuck Hughes Stadium.
“When you play a good football team and make that many mistakes, you don’t deserve to win,” Plaa said. “We were not getting off the field on fourth down and we turned the ball over at least three times.”
The Knights were coming off an impressive, come-from-behind 44-42 victory over Valley Oak League power Manteca. There was no rally on Friday.
Bears senior quarterback Dhameer Warren had 11 carries for 154 yards and two touchdowns, a 65-yard passing touchdown, and an interception on defense. Warren also converted a key fourth down attempt to put the game away.
“Down at the end of the game, he showed great leadership and said ‘Put it (the game) on my back, we will get this,’” Merced coach Rob Scheidt said. “He got it and we are really happy about it.”
After a 25-yard gain on a fourth-down attempt by senior Xavier Stewart, junior running back Desmond Thompson ran for a 11-yard touchdown to give the Bears a 7-0 lead with a little under seven minutes left in the first quarter.
Trailing 7-3 early in the second quarter, Knights freshman quarterback Beau Green threw a beautiful 42-yard pass to senior Bryce Peterson to give Downey a 10-7 lead. Thompson would score on a 11-yard touchdown run on the ensuing drive for Merced to give the Bears a 13-10 lead.
“I think with all the momentum from last week, we were hoping the magic would come and we needed some guys to step up tonight and we need to do a better job coaching and a better job with our effort,” Plaa said.
After trailing 26-17 at halftime, Downey came out with a perfect opening drive that ended with a 15-yard touchdown run by junior Robert Rivera to cut Merced’s lead to three after the missed two-point conversion. Rivera had three rushing touchdowns, a career-high.
“He is a spark plug,” Plaa said. “We thought we could run the ball on them. The fact that we were picking up five or six yards instead of 15 or 20 made it feel like we weren’t doing a very effective job but when we look back, we felt like we were moving the ball well on the ground.”
On Merced’s next drive, Stewart and senior quarterback Junior Garcia executed a perfect screen play for 33 yards and the touchdown. Garcia had two passing touchdowns on the night.
“We got a quarterback who can throw it really well and a dual-threat quarterback,” Scheidt said. “They are being unselfish and you put all the other pieces around them that are very very athletic, it makes us really good.”
Warren had a 25-yard run for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter down the right sideline and then connected with senior Ezra Morales for a 65-yard score. The Bears had the ball for the final four minutes of the game and ran the ball eight of the nine plays.
“I have to give credit to our offensive line,” Scheidt said. “They are big guys and they are getting better and better. When we had to run the football to win the game, we did it.”
Green finished with 324 passing yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, and one fumble lost.
“He can make plays and we are going to have growing pains with him,” Plaa said.
Downey is at Johansen next week while Merced will play Madera.