It was a crisp fall night; not too hot, not too cold, one of those nights where you are comfortable wearing a sweatshirt, maybe a winter jacket, and you feel cozy. It is still too early to see your breath, but we all know those nights are coming. Friday night was one of those perfect Fall football nights at Damonte Ranch High School.
It was homecoming, and Damonte’s two-time national champion cheer squad performed, the dance team was showcased, and the six-time state champion marching band played as the homecoming floats made their way in front of the home stands. Homecoming Kings and Queens (one each for each grade) were crowned, and the football team cruised to a 63-31 win over the McQueen Lancers.
The Mustangs struck first, a 70-yard run by sophomore sensation Ashton Hayes. The North has been put on notice, Hayes is force to be reckoned with. He is as comfortable running defenders over as he is around them, and away from them. In the second quarter there was a play where Hayes burst through the line, bounced outside, and was off to the races. Two McQueen defenders stood between him and the endzone. As the distance between the defenders and Hayes closed, Hayes slowed, side-stepped one defender, then turned on the jets and ran away from the other. Hayes finished with four touchdowns, three rushing and one receiving, and close to three hundred yards on the ground. But it wasn’t just Hayes putting on a show Friday night for the boisterous Homecoming crowd.
Carson Smith and Ryon Mandichak broke of big chunks on the ground for the Mustangs. Smith scored a touchdown and helped to keep the clock running and the chains moving in the second half. But the Mustangs were not limited to doing moving the ball on the ground, Ethan Kulpin and West Smith had the passing game going as well. Kulpin and Smith connected with Ian Williams, Nick Vargas, Ashton Hayes, and Ty Polson for touchdowns through the air. Talaiasi Finau, linebacker for the Lancers, was able to apply pressure and picked up a couple sacks on the night.
The Lancers came in shorthanded, without their starting quarterback Cody Ciglar. Robert Snelling got the start, but it was Tyler Brantner who led the Lancers charge on offense. Branter found Mitchell Ehlen and Matthew Croarkin for a number of big plays including a 98-yard touchdown pass. The Lancers offense was unable to establish the run game, but in the second half they did score four times through the air.
The Mustangs finished the night off with freshman West Smith at quarterback. Smith threw some beautiful passes, moved the offense, and enjoyed being roughed-up a little bit by the McQueen defense. When I talked to him later that night, with his blond hair tousled and a big smile on his face, he said, “Yeah, that was a lot of fun!”
I wonder if sometimes we forget that these are just high school kids playing a game. It is easy to get caught-up debating rankings. We brag up those that have received college offers while speculating about who will go “D1”. We speculate about playoff pairings. But these are still just boys, young men really, playing a game on a Friday night in front of their friends and family, and it is supposed to be fun, and Friday night the Damonte Ranch Football Program had fun.
Up Next – After a three game homestand the Mustangs take to the road for a showdown with Tony Amantia and the Reed Raiders. The Raiders have a terrific one-two punch with quarterback Jack Franz and running back Elijah Tau Tolliver. Franz is leading the North in passing and will look to pick up where Brantner and the Lancers left off. The Raiders have scored 51, 56, 63, and 21 points this season, for an average of 48 points per game. Their defense is surrendering 23 points per game. The Mustangs are averaging 33 points per game on offense while surrendering 23 points per contest.