Mustangs Overpower Thunder
Cole Becker wears number 98 for the Rocklin Thunder and might have received the game ball if the Thunder had managed the come-from-behind victory at a packed Damonte Ranch Stadium Friday night. Becker’s kickoffs sailed into, and in some cases, through the endzone all night in the thin Reno air. Becker also made three field goals and three extra points, accounting for 12 of the Thunder’s 23 points. Damonte Ranch has been playing teams from Northern California for years, and I have noticed that every one of those teams has a good kicker, one that can consistently hit field goals and put kickoffs deep in the field of play, or into the endzone for a touchback. But last night, Cole Becker’s heroics could not match those of Damonte Ranch’s Ashton Hayes and Ethan Kulpin.
Kulpin is the junior quarterback who split snaps with West Smith last week in the loss at Granite Bay. This week Head Coach Shawn Dupris put the ball in Kulpin’s hands from start-to-finish, and it would appear the Mustangs have found their quarterback. Kulpin is not the classic drop-back quarterback: he also starts on the defensive side of the ball, at safety, and he enjoys contact. Kulpin repeatedly burned the Thunder with his legs Friday night, much to the delight of the standing-room-only crowd on the Damonte side of the stadium. Kulpin found targets all over the field, including through the air, hitting running backs out of the backfield, and finding receivers downfield. But, were it not for the efforts of Kulpin’s backfield partner, Ashton Hayes, the outcome of the game could have been much different.
Hayes is that rare combination of size and speed. As a freshman last year, Hayes was on Damonte’s varsity track team, competing in the sprinting events. No less than three times during that season, Hayes tore through his track spikes. Hayes generates so much torque when he leaves the starting line that the shoes were not able to withstand the force. Friday night his football cleats were up to the challenge, and so was Hayes. Hayes repeatedly ran over, and around, Rocklin defenders. Hayes is as comfortable cutting inside, as he is outside, where is a threat to take it the distance every time he has the ball. Friday night, it was Hayes that finished the Thunder off with punishing runs late in the fourth quarter as the Mustangs sought to run the clock out. The Thunder defenders were unable to bring down the fleet-footed Mustang, and with Damonte holding a four-point lead, the clock expired, securing a 27-23 victory for the Mustangs.
Not to be lost amidst the electrifying exploits of Kulpin and Hayes would be Damonte’s efforts on the defensive side of the ball. Rocklin repeatedly tested Damonte’s corners, but Nick Vargas and Justin Harley rose to the occasion, playing well. Rocklin’s offensive line is formidable, as big as any in Northern Nevada, and the Thunder tried to establish the run, using a rotating group of running backs; but Damonte’s defensive lineman occupied blockers, allowing their linebackers to make the necessary plays. Christian Jamison, Carson Smith, and Jaeden Imgard all performed well on the defensive side of the ball for the Mustangs.
The game hinged on a strong second quarter for the Mustangs that saw them come back from a 10-0 deficit before going into the locker room up 20-10. The Mustangs took a commanding 27-10 lead in the third quarter; however, the Thunder ran the ensuing kickoff back cutting the deficit to 27-17. A key unnecessary roughness call in the fourth quarter extended a Thunder scoring drive, but on the Mustangs final possession, it was Rocklin that was flagged for unnecessary roughness, aiding the Mustangs in their effort to run out the clock.
Up Next – the Mustangs stay at home and will face a formidable High Desert foe, the Reno Huskies. The Huskies offense is averaging 39 points per game while their defense surrenders just nine points per contest. The Huskies have wins over North Valleys (3A), Wooster, and Douglas. They are led by Drew Worthen, senior, a dangerous running back capable of shifting a game on his own. This will be a stern test for the Mustangs as they look to slow down the speedy senior running back and stymie a potent Huskies offense. The Huskies will be challenged to contain Kulpin’s dual-threat capabilities while trying to contain Ashton Hayes who grows more confident with each touch of the ball.
Lynn Ault | Writer
Lynn Ault is the “voice of the Mustangs”, announcing football, basketball, and wrestling for Damonte. His daughter graduated from Damonte in 2017 after playing basketball and two years of varsity cheerleading. His son is a senior and plays football for the Mustangs.