Damonte put Reed on the ropes from the opening kickoff as Mustang phenom Drew Smith went 60 yards all the way down to the Raiders’ 21. But those inopportune DRHS penalties reared their ugly head once again and Damonte settled for a 33-yard field goal after driving down to the 3.
The 3-0 lead was the high point of the night for the Mustangs as the Raiders scored 50 unanswered points and won their third North Region championship in four years with a 50-9 victory Friday night at Mackay Stadium.
After Damonte made it to the Reed 3-yard line on the first drive of the game, two penalties backed it up 10 yards and Reed stuffed a run for a loss of three yards. Grant Cooper drilled a 33-yard field goal between the uprights for a 3-0 advantage with 9:24 on the first-quarter clock.
Reed’s offense moved the ball on the Damonte defense but coughed up the ball twice, ending those drives at the Mustangs’ 30 and 22 in the first eight and a half minutes of the contest. Damonte had a chance to add more points, but a 43-yard field goal came up short.
Like so many times this season, the Raiders’ defense stepped up until the offense was ready to go.
“Again, the defense is showing the type of play and the type of mental toughness they have in the sense that there was a kickoff return that goes down to the 20. Then we turn around and have two fumbles on offense and we had to play some serious defense because the offensive and special teams we’re not living up to our end of the bargain,” Reed football coach Ernie Howren said. “The defense established the tone of the game and we wanted to be physical. It came our way because of the defense.”
Following a three-and-out by the Mustangs and a shanked punt, Reed took over at the DRHS 42 and quarterback Mark Nowacweski hooked up with Brett Chaney over the top for a 29-yard touchdown pass. The PAT was no good, leaving Reed with a 6-3 lead and 28 seconds remaining in the initial quarter.
After Damonte punted for the third time in the first half, an unnecessary roughness penalty moved Reed up to its own 29. It then trekked 71 yards for a score. Running back Ty Shepard took the ball in from the 4 on the 10th play of the drive. Reed led 13-3 at the 4:52 mark of the second quarter.
The Mustangs were able to advance the ball into Blue and Gold territory late in the first half, pushing their way to the RHS 37. However, two straight plays for negative yards, including a 10-yard sack, forced Damonte to punt away with under two minutes to play before the break.
With 1:50 to go in the half, Reed needed to go 90 yards to add to its first-half lead. That’s exactly what happened.
A 39-yard reception by Chaney set up a 20-yard touchdown catch by him two plays later and a 20-3 halftime advantage.
Reed’s defense made Damonte punt one last time before the intermission, the fifth straight possession to end with a punt.
The Raiders dominated play in the first 24 minutes, racking up 22 first downs to Damonte’s nine, outgaining the Mustangs 343-96 in the first half to overcome the two early fumbles.
That string of punts continued in the second half.
The Mustangs punted on their first two possessions of the second half and the Raiders turned those into 14 more points.
Reed scored 54 seconds into the third quarter as Chaney pulled in his third TD catch from 5 yards out. The next time Reed possessed the ball, it increased its edge to 34-3 on a 4-yard keeper by Nowaczewski with 7:34 on the third-quarter clock.
The streak of seven straight punts ended on the Mustangs’ next possession, but that wasn’t good news for the Sierra League’s third seed. Damonte turned the ball over for the first time, fumbling it away.
The Raiders answered with a 36-yard touchdown pass from Nowaczewski to Marty Hargrove, padding the cushion to 41-3, 21 seconds after the previous touchdown.
Chris Denn added a 40-yard field goal with 3:57 left in the third, pushing the gap to 44-3.
Reed built a big enough lead to institute the running clock at the start of the fourth quarter.
After Smith picked off Nowaczewski and danced his way for a 44-yard return to the Reed 44, Damonte couldn’t get anything going, turning the ball over on downs.
The Raiders took over and Jordan Deleon busted through the middle for a 50-yard touchdown, extending the lead to 50-3 with four seconds to go in the third quarter.
“It means a lot. I don’t know what words to use to describe it right now,” Howren said. “I’m so proud of the kids and the coaches because they always believed. They always believed that we could get back to this point again. We knew if it was going to happen, we would have to work hard. I’m so proud of the way we persevered all season.”
With reserves in the game for the final quarter, Damonte was five yards from scoring its first touchdown of the night, but had the ball stripped away near the midway point of the fourth quarter.
The Mustangs got one last chance and made the most of it, finding the end zone on a hook-and-ladder play as time expired. Damonte called timeouts with 11 and 4 seconds on the clock, setting up the score by Jared Blake.
Nowaczewski completed 22 of 32 passes for 333 yards and four touchdowns. Chaney, who stepped into leading receiver Devin Gray’s role after Gray broke his collarbone last week, caught seven passes for 140 yards and three touchdowns.
“Devin is a great player, and everyone was going to have to step up, from the line to running backs to the receivers to the quarterback. I just got lucky and got put in his spot. Casey Higgins was put in my spot, so he stepped up real big. We all just stepped up. The defense was there, and we were there,” Chaney said.
Reed (10-3) will take on Bishop Gorman in a state semifinal Saturday, Nov. 24.