"Damonte made some mistakes, but Spanish Springs the last few years has not capitalized on those kinds of mistakes," Cougars coach Scott Hare said. "This team is doing that."
The contest was scoreless with more than eight minutes of time elapsed off the first-quarter clock. Spanish Springs then proceeded to post its trio of early tell-tale touchdowns.
The first score came when Cougars quarterback Hunter Fralick found a seam and trotted into the end zone from 3 yards out on a fourth-and-1 play. The extra point sailed wide right but the guests had a 6-0 lead with 3:26 remaining in the initial quarter.
That touchdown came after the Cougars blocked a Mustangs punt.
Damonte Ranch fumbled the snap on its first play of the following drive and Spanish Springs recovered, getting set up with a first down at the host's 20. On the Cougars' first play, Fralick hooked up with wide receiver Ryder Lowry on a 20-yard streak down the sideline that gave the SSHS gridders a 13-0 lead with 3:05 left in the first.
Next, a gamble by Damonte Ranch backfired when the Mustangs failed to convert on a fourth down try.
On the Cougars' corresponding possession, CJ Carithers plunged over the goal line for a 1-yard TD run that capped a 64-yard drive. The big play on the drive was a 37-yard pass-and-catch combination from Fralick to Vance Lively.
That third touchdown forged Spanish Springs ahead 20-0 with 10:54 showing on the second-quarter clock and capped the key spurt.
"Offensively, we didn't execute," Mustangs coach Sean Dupris said. "We had way too many mistakes. That's the game of football. Sometimes it goes badly. Our defense battled. I'm proud of those guys. We just had too many mistakes."
Despite all its early woes, Damonte tried to hang around. Damonte Ranch put up its only score of the first half on the next possession. Mustangs QB Kyle Daugherty handled the scoring honors with a 12-yard TD scamper, but the hosts got some help on the scoring march. Facemask and roughing-the-passer penalties against the Cougars, as well a missed tackle on a DRHS fake punt conversion, proved costly for Spanish Springs.
With the touchdown, Damonte cut the deficit to 20-7 eight minutes before the break.
However, Spanish Springs was not done scoring in the first half. The Cougars later forced the Mustangs to punt from inside their own 5. That allowed Lowry, who was returning the kick, a chance for a big play and he responded, returning it 35 yards to the Damonte 2. Three players later, Carithers had his second 1-yard TD run, leading to a 27-7 SSHS lead with 2:59 left before the break.
The score remained that way into halftime.
Spanish Springs got the ball to start the third quarter but went backwards on its first possession. That led to a punt and gave Damonte Ranch a chance to try and scratch its way back into contention. It did just that as Daugherty found Jordan Waller on a 39-yard touchdown possession less than three minutes into the second half, trimming the visitors' lead to 27-14.
It got worse for Spanish Springs. Damonte Ranch sacked Fralick when the Cougars went for it on a fourth-and-8. The Mustangs took over at their own 35 and appeared to be driving for another score, possibly one that would shift the momentum of the game.
Fortunately for Spanish Springs, its defense held. The Damonte Ranch drive stalled and eventually came up empty, following a missed 25-yard field goal try.
Any small momentum Damonte Ranch had grabbed quickly disappeared as Spanish Springs answered with an 80-yard scoring drive that for all intents and purposes served as the nail in the DRHS coffin.
"We had some adversity but we handled it well," Cougars linebacker Vinny Agliolo said. "We overcame it and didn't let it stop us. That stop was key in the third quarter. And then to go down and score got us the momentum."
That last Cougars scoring march was capped when reserve tailback Zach Perez took a run outside and scampered 11 yards into the end zone for a touchdown that pushed the Sparks school ahead by the final 34-14 margin.
"You have no idea how that felt. Words can't describe it," Perez said of the touchdown, his first career varsity score. "I was able to bounce it outside. I have to read the nose tackle. There were three guys up the middle and it was kind of congested. I saw that and got it to the outside."
The clock still had 9:13 left in the game but Damonte Ranch could not muster much in desperation mode and the SSHS offense was content to sit on its lead and let time tick away.
Hare stressed that the sequence, when Damonte missed the field goal and his squad answered with a score, was pivotal.
"I was really happy, when it was 27-14 and we were not playing all that well, when Vinny made a great stop. They missed the field goal and we went 80 yards for a score," Hare said. "That slammed the door shut."
Fralick was a wounded warrior for Spanish Springs Friday, overcoming a sore ankle for much of the night. However, it only served as a nuisance in hindering his scrambling ability. He still completed 16-of-21 for 208 yards.
Spanish Springs ran the ball 36 times but only had 104 yards to show for it. Carithers finished with 44 yards on 18 rushes.
"We had to deal with a lot more adversity in this game than we did last week," Hare said, comparing Friday's win to his Cougars Week 1 romp over Manogue. "We had a lot of guys do a good job filling in. We had five or six guys who came in and played big roles tonight because we had other guys banged up."
Spanish Springs is on the road again in Week 3. The Cougars (2-0) travel to Sacramento to take on Inderkum at 7 p.m. Friday.