Hugson vs. Downey
Hughson spots Downey big early lead, then has comeback fall short in 19-13 loss

Hughson’s football team spotted unbeaten Downey three touchdowns, but showed enough poise and determination that it still had a chance to win the game on its final possession. That’s what good teams do. The fact that the Huskies’ rally fell short Friday night in a frustrating 19-13 loss to the Knights does nothing to diminish that.

“There’s no heads down,” Hughson Coach Shaun King told the Modesto Bee. “We competed with one of the best programs in Modesto, enrollment or not. It was a physical game. On both sides, we were pleased with the game.”

Both teams sported 3-0 records coming into the game, which was played in front of a raucous crowd at Husky Memorial Stadium. The atmosphere was reminiscent of a November playoff game more than a mid-September non-league contest. Downey had won 23 regular-season games in a row. The Huskies had a nine-game winning streak that included five playoff victories last year, including Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI and California Division 5-AA championships.

Something had to give.

Downey set the tone right away, stunning the Huskies with a long run for a touchdown on the second play of the game. The Knights scored again on their second possession to take a quick 12-0 lead. The margin grew to 19-0 early in the second quarter when Downey returned a Robert McDaniel interception for another TD.

But Hughson kept its composure, settled down on defense and placed its confidence in McDaniel, a junior who has started at quarterback since he was a freshman. Late in the first half, McDaniel found Max Mankins on a 23-yard scoring pass to cut Downey’s lead to 19-7.

“We weathered the storm and didn’t freak out,” said King. “They came out running the ball and ended up rushing for more yards than we did. And we ended up passing for more yards. Who would have expected that? The script was kind of flipped.”

Hughson’s defense – knocked off-balance by Downey’s fast start – dug in its heels after the first quarter. King said the Huskies switched up their front in an effort to contain the Knights’ running game.

 “We went into halftime and still felt good,” said King. “We went from Plan A to Plan B and we had a Plan C, if we had needed it. Our defense was locked in. We knew what their plan was.”

The adjustments worked. Downey’s offense didn’t score another point the rest of the game.

“Hughson did some stuff that made it difficult on us,” Downey Coach Jeremy Plaa told the Bee.

David Burns and David Delgado each made six tackles on defense, but the Huskies’ star was cornerback Malakai Sumter, who intercepted two Downey passes in the second half.

The first pick set up the Hughson offense for a long third-quarter drive that ended up with McDaniel’s 1-yard quarterback sneak for a touchdown. Just like that, the score was 19-13 and Hughson had the emotional momentum.

“Offensively, we put the game in Robert’s hands,” King explained. “They had a real good plan against our run game, so we spread them out, something I never imagined we’d do against Downey.”

The teams traded possessions the rest of the way, setting up a frantic finish in the final minutes of the game, when Hughson was on the march for what could have been the winning score.

With 1:14 left in the fourth quarter, Hughson running back Alex Villarreal broke loose and scampered to the Downey 4-yard line. The Huskies looked to be on the verge of a scintillating comeback. But Hughson was called for holding on the play, pushing the ball back to the Downey 34-yard line, where it was now third-and-6 with a minute to go.

Out of timeouts, Hughson tried to surprise Downey with a running play, which was stuffed. Then on fourth down, McDaniel’s pass to Larkin Meyer was knocked down by a Downey defender. Game over.

Despite the loss, Hughson proved it could hang with one of the best teams in the region, a larger school with twice the enrollment.

“Downey won’t lose a game in the regular season, probably not until the playoffs,” King said. “After playing those guys, we’re ready for anything. It was a great test, great competition. What a fun night.”

Hughson (3-1) will have one final non-league game this week when it hosts Elite (2-2) of Vallejo. Elite is a new school with its first group of seniors. The Eagles lost 50-0 to Woodland Christian last week.

After this week, the Huskies will have a bye before beginning the always rugged Trans-Valley League schedule. The first game? At home on Sept. 29 against archrival Escalon (3-1). Hughson is seeking its first TVL title in 25 years.