Friday night was the first varsity football game on the new turf at Damonte. The new field turf is beautiful, edged with Damonte blue, and featuring the mean Mustang logo in the middle. The christening of the new turf, however, was almost spoiled by the Reed Raiders.
The game couldn’t have started out better for the Mustangs. They took the opening kickoff and marched downfield, a scoring drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown plunge by senior quarterback Ethan Kulpin. After kicker Benny Marshall’s successful point after try, the Mustangs held a 7-0 lead. The Damonte defense held the Raiders in check while the offense authored two more touchdowns drives. The first of those culminating with a four-yard touchdown run by senior Carson Smith. Senior Nick Vargas caught a short pass and eluded a defender before finding his way into the endzone, for the Mustangs third touchdown of the half, giving the Mustangs a commanding 21-0 lead.
Lesser teams, lesser players, would have folded under the pressure of that moment, but not Reed and their senior running back Elijah Tau Tolliver. Tolliver took the kickoff, after the Vargas touchdown, the distance, making the score 21-8 at the half. The Raiders added a third quarter field goal, making the score 21-11. The Damonte Ranch defense stopped the next drive by bringing down Reed’s junior quarterback, Armaan Bajwa, in the endzone for a safety, after which the score was 23-11 Mustangs. Senior running back Ryan Mandichak capped the Mustangs scoring, for the night, with a physical 8-yard touchdown run; the score was 30-11 Mustangs after three quarters.
The Raiders refused to let the game get out of hand, Tau Tolliver scored another touchdown for the Raiders, with 10:56 to go in the game, narrowing the score to 30-17. Damonte took the ensuing kickoff and began milking the clock, giving the ball to Smith, Mandichak, and fellow senior Justin Harley. On a third down play from midfield, Kulpin dropped back, looked across the field, let the ball fly, only to have it intercepted by junior Elijah Acklin. Acklin took the interception all the way back for a touchdown, making it a one score game, 30-24, with 7:55 on the clock.
Through the years, Damonte’s high powered offenses have made highlight reels with spectacular passing plays, however, it is the run game that fuels Head Coach Shawn Dupris’ offense. Smith, Mandichak, and Harley took turns carrying the ball for the Mustangs, with Smith being the workhorse. The Mustangs utilized that strong run game, moving downfield methodically, while the clock ran. Damonte was looking to put the game away, with the ball inside the Raiders five-yard line, but the Raiders defense held, stopping Carson Smith at the three-yard line on a fourth and goal play.
The Raiders passing game had not found its rhythm until that last drive, when junior quarterback Armaan Bajwa got things going. Bajwa had been under constant pressure from the Damonte defense, being forced to throw quickly or while on the run. Something clicked into place for Bajwa on that last drive, he looked calm, cool, and collected, firing darts to receivers all over the field. The Raiders, moving from south to north on the new turf, worked the sidelines to stop the clock from running out on them. Everything came down to one last play, from the Damonte 20-yard line, an incomplete pass that appeared to seal the deal for the Mustangs, but .1 second remained on the clock, and the defense had been flagged, moving the ball to the Mustangs 10-yard line for one last play. Bajwa was forced from the pocket, and as he was nearing the Reed sideline, on the run, he threw the ball through the endzone where it fell incomplete.
It was a heart stopping home opener for the Mustangs, and their fans. Speaking of the fans, if you tried to watch the game on the NFHS Network, please know that Damonte Ranch is aware of the feed issues and is working with the Network to ensure that the feed is better for the next home game, which will be Friday, March 19th, 6:00 PM, hosting the Douglas Tigers.
Carson Smith, linebacker and running back – Smith stepped into the starting running back spot and had a good night scoring a touchdown and rushing for around a hundred yards, but he really stood out on the defensive side, finishing with a dozen tackles, or more, including a number of tackles for loss
Ryan Mandichak, linebacker and running back – scored a touchdown on a drive that started with him recovering a punt he had blocked, Mandichak was also a force on the defensive side of the ball
Ilex Garcia and Derek Montoya, linemen - playing both ways, Garcia and Montoya were difference makers in the trenches for the Mustangs
Benny Marshall, lineman and kicker – Marshall made all his point after tries while also making plays on the defensive side of the ball from his defensive end position
Elijah Tau Tolliver, running back and linebacker – a danger to go the distance every time he touches the ball, he had a good night on the ground for the Raiders while accounting for two scores, also had a solid night at linebacker
The Mustangs next opponent will be Coach Aaron Cook’s Galena Grizzlies. The Grizzlies lost their opener, in Douglas, 26-0. The game will be at Galena, 6:00 PM, Friday night, March 12th; at this time there is no plan for visiting fans to be allowed, nor for the game to be streamed or televised. Social media updates should be provided by outlets like the Reno Gazette Journal, Northern Nevada Preps, or Battle Born Preps.