Skip to main content

Rancho Cucamonga edges Damien to cement D1 playoff spot; 3 takeaways

Rancho Cucamonga maintains its unbeaten season with a turnover to seal the gam in the waning moments against Damien

LA VERNE, CALIFORNIA - The battle of unbeatens delivered, but only one team remains perfect this season.

Rancho Cucamonga edged Damien 36-35 on the road in a Baseline League showdown Friday night.

Damien QB Isaiah Arraiza connected with Elijah Betchel with 38 seconds left to put the Spartans to within 36-35 before coach Matt Betchel elected to go for two. But the attempt was intercepted by Rancho Cucamonga’s Dakota Mendoza to seal the game.

“We are always going to play to win,” Betchel said after the game to San Gabriel Valley Tribune’s Fred Robledo, explaining the reason he went of two at the end of the game.

“Part of that comes from preparation and part of that comes from the strategy, being at home. We felt good about the play we had on, but (Mendoza) made a heck of a play.” 

The Cougars’ win puts them in the driver’s seat to win the league title with one game remaining for each team. Rancho Cucamonga moves to 9-0 while Damien drops to 8-1.

“Dakota Mendoza stayed home on a throwback and was able to intercept the ball and close it out,” Rancho Cucamonga coach Brian Hilderbrand said.

Damien went 3-7 in each of the last two seasons before starting this year 8-0 — its best start since 1999.

Here are three takeaways from the game


Rancho Cucamonga is headed to the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs after Friday night’s win. The Cougars sit at No. 7 in the rankings and will play Upland in their final game of the season next Thursday.

“We’ll be ready for anything,” Hilderbrand said. “Wherever we end up, we’re ready to go.”

The way it’s shaping up, the Division 1 field will consist of either eight, 10 or (maybe) 12 teams. It would take a catastrophic loss to bump Rancho Cucamonga out of the top division.

If the field is eight teams, it means Rancho Cucamonga could play Mater Dei in the opening round of the playoffs.


It’s not easy to defend Rancho Cucamonga. 

They are capable of big plays at anytime and it showed Friday night. QB Emiliano Villarreal tossed for 249 yards and three TDs on 13 of 21 passing.

Trey Wilson ran for 153 yards on 14 carries and two touchdowns.

Wideout Daniel Wimbush hauled in two touchdowns and Jonah Dawson was tearing up the Damien secondary with big-time catches, tallying two catches for 62 yards and a touchdown.


Damien wide receiver Ayden Gutierrez might be one of the top underrated prospects in the Southland.

The speedy senior holds offers to UNLV and Nevada, but after what he did against the speed and agility of Rancho Cucamonga’s skill players, Gutierrez should be expecting more calls from college coaches.

Rancho Cucamonga vs. Damien on Friday, October 20, 2023.

Damien’s Ayden Gutierrez was a standout Friday night.

He finished the game with four catches for 98 yards, including a 40-yard catch where at least 25 yards of the play was done after the catch. 

His most impressive play came in the third quarter when he returned a kickoff for a touchdown for 98 yards.

Senior running back Zachary Eguia stood out, too, for Damien. He ran for 98 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, but got hurt in the fourth quarter.