Teams stand and fall together, the Latin phrase for this is, “aut simul stabunt aut simul cadent,” and the 2023 Damonte Ranch Mustangs stood and fell together. The season started on a glorious August night, at home, hosting the Hug Hawks. Damonte dominated on both sides of the ball, posting a 51-0 victory. After a difficult 2022 season, people looked at the dominant performance and wondered what the ceiling might be for this group. The momentum carried into the second week of the season when they went on the road to North Valleys and played another dominant game, securing a 42-7 victory. Then came the Truckee game.
Week three saw the Mustangs host Truckee, a regional football powerhouse (regardless of size or classification) and after three quarters the Mustangs held a 17-7 lead. Damonte’s defense had done a good job and the offense had moved the ball well. But Truckee showed their championship pedigree, scoring 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter on their way a quality road win. Truckee would go on to win a second straight 3A title after dispatching SLAM Academy in the state title game. Up next for the Mustangs, the Douglas Tigers.
Damonte hadn’t lost to Douglas since the 2011 season, but this Douglas squad was just different. They were led by Trace Estes, Conner Jackson, Cole Smalley, and Kyle Koontz; they would go on to dominate the 5A III league, winning promotion to the 5A II league for the 2024 season. Douglas had a 14-7 lead at the half and two Douglas touchdowns in the second half put the game away.
The Cross Saw game was next, at Galena, for the second year in a row. At the half, the Mustangs held a 10-7 lead, and perhaps an omen for the night’s outcome took place during halftime when a field goal competition, featuring students and administrators, took place with Damonte winning both competitions. Damonte played a brilliant second half, holding Galena scoreless while putting 22 on the board. Damonte retained the Cross Saw with a resounding 32-7 victory.
Back home and hoping to keep the positive vibes going, Damonte hosted Reno for their first 5A II league game. It was a physical affair with both teams leaning heavily on their run game. Damonte had a 10-0 halftime lead and led 16-0 going into the fourth quarter. In the fourth, Reno scored 12 points to make it a one score game, but Damonte’s defense held, securing the league win, moving their record to 4-2.
The Mustangs went on the road to Spanish Springs, next, and lost a tough one, 14-0. It was an odd game, 7-0 at the half, a punt return for a Damonte touchdown called back, a missed Damonte field goal, and then a late score for Spanish Springs after Damonte turned the ball over on downs at their own 4-yard line. After that, Damonte hosted McQueen and struggled on both sides of the ball, losing 19-6. A loss at Reed the next week dropped Damonte to 4-5 with one league win and three losses. Bishop Manogue hosted Damonte for the final regular season game of the year, with a win the Miners secured the top seed and league title after defeating Damonte 45-18.
Realignment meant new playoff scenarios and Damonte found themselves in a three-way tie, at the end of the season, with Reno and McQueen. Point differential became the deciding factor, and by virtue of such, Reno was placed in the fourth spot, McQueen the fifth, and Damonte the sixth; a handful points separated the three squads. As a result, Damonte made a second trip, in three weeks, to Reed, this time for a first-round playoff game. It was a Saturday playoff game played under a brilliant Nevada blue sky, Reed scored first and then built that lead into a 48-6 victory.
BY THE NUMBERS
4 – wins
7 – losses
2 – home victories
2 – road wins
2 – 5A II North First Team Selections: Bryan Hermann and Braelen Toles
4 – 5A II North Second Team Selections: DJ Gonzalez Brown, Amari Nash, Zach Scott, and Carsen Galvin
4 – 5A II North Honorable Mention Selections: Ronin Black, Eric Chacon, Amari Nash, and Damian Smith
44 – yards per game receiving by Amari Nash, led the team
74 – yards per game rushing by DJ Gonzalez Brown, led the team
10 – tackles per game by Carsen Galvin, led the team
9.5 – sacks by Braelen Toles, which led the team, along with 21 quarterback hurries, three fumbles caused, and 75 tackles. Toles moved into the top five NIAA (Nevada Interscholastic Athletic Association) sack leaders this season, securing his place in the Damonte Ranch record books and pantheon of all-time Damonte greats
Next season will see Damonte in the 5A III league after finishing sixth in the 5A II league this season. They will play league games with Carson, Wooster, Hug, North Valleys, and Galena. I watched this team fight and claw its way through the season. They played four different quarterbacks and almost three times that many running backs. I saw the coaches try new schemes while trying to will the team to victory. There is a lot to celebrate, a lot to learn from, and a lot to build on with key players returning next season. Coming back should be six 5A II All-North selections, a starting quarterback, running backs that started games and contributed weekly, proven offensive lineman, and playmakers on defense.
About Your Author – Lynn Ault covers Damonte Ranch Athletics for Battle Born Preps. Both of his kids graduated from Damonte where his wife tortures students with mathematics. When not announcing or covering Damonte athletics, Lynn can be found working with middle and high school students at Hope Community, a south Reno non-denominational church.