The bitter-sweet end of a difficult season played itself out Friday at Granite Bay as the Miners fell to the Grizzlies, 49-7, solidifying the worst football season in Nevada Union football history.
That being so, the Miners showed great class and heart at the end of Friday’s game. With the clock winding down in the fourth quarter and the game well in hand for the Grizzlies, the Miners showed that football can be about more than the wins and losses.
Travis Bauer, a mentally disabled senior on the Granite Bay team, checked into the game and carried the ball for the first time this season, going 75 yards for a touchdown as players and fans from both sides of the stadium rooted him on. Once in the end zone, the Grizzlies and Miners, bitter rivals on the field, came together in celebration of Bauer’s accomplishment.
“Their coach had talked to me before the game, and they have a kid that is mentally (disabled) that has never played, and he asked if we minded him scoring,” NU head coach Dennis Houlihan said. “We were planning on doing at the end of the game. We had gotten our kids ready to do it, but he didn’t tell his kids, so it was real special for them. We are trying to teach our kids there are things more important than football, things are more important than winning games right now. We are trying to change the way we believe, and the way we think.”
After the game, Houlihan was inundated with Granite Bay coaches, administrators and players thanking him for the gesture and commending the Miners for the class they showed in that final minute.
While the way the game ended would warm any sports fan’s heart, the play by the Miners up to that point left a little to be desired.
The Granite Bay defense recovered four fumbles, blocked a punt, sacked NU three times and didn’t allow a point until mid-way into the fourth quarter.
As effective as the Granite Bay defense was, the offense matched it. Josh Neal, the Sierra Foothill League leader in passing, threw five first-half touchdowns to four different receivers as the Grizzlies built a 42-0 halftime lead. Neal finished 10-of-18 for 163 yards and five touchdowns, all coming in the first half.
For the Miners, it was tough sledding on offense. NU mounted just 35 rushing yards in the first half, coming on 26 carries. NU fared better in the second half and would finish with a game total of 154 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown.
Junior fullback Mo Nieves led the team in rush yards with 51 on 13 carries. Senior Brandon Lopez scored the Miners’ lone touchdown, coming on a 1-yard plunge into the end zone. Lopez finished the game with 35 yards on seven bruising carries. Chipping in 26 yards was Isaac Rodriguez, Joe Voight added 20, and Jake Berger rushed for 18 yards. Berger also had an interception on the defensive side of the ball.
Sophomore quarterback Justus Spillner completed four passes for 59 yards in the first half but nothing in the second half as he shared time with senior Michael Tapia, who was 1-of-3 for 22 yards.
Catching passes for the Miners were Berger, Voight, Ryan Zuccaro and Drew Daniels.
On the defensive side for NU, junior Josh Belendez was blowing up Grizzly runners all game, Amani Senegal helped keep the Granite Bay run game in check, and Gareth Noxon landed several big hits in the secondary.
“I’m very proud of them for finishing the year out the way they did,” Houlihan said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Everything, I believe, happens for a reason, and football goes beyond wins and losses, our kids changed behaviors this year, and that’s what I’m proud of.”
Nevada Union wraps its season at 0-10, and 0-5 in the SFL.
JV: Nevada Union 19, Granite Bay 14
Coming into Friday’s season finale at Granite Bay, the Miners were still in search of their first win this season — they found it.
Nevada Union beat Granite Bay on the Grizzlies’ home turf to tally its first win of the season and, for many of the players, their first win of their high school career. After an 0-10 freshmen campaign in 2012 and an 0-9 start to 2013 season, the Miners showed truly how far they have come with their win over the Grizzlies (6-4).
Nevada Union’s Brandon Mrozowski led the Miners charge with 137 yards and two touchdowns, including the eventual game winner.
After Mrozowski’s 11-yard touchdown run put NU up 19-14 in the fourth quarter, the defense handled its business, forcing Granite Bay to punt with 5:43 left on the clock.
The Grizzlies booted the punt 65 yards, pinning NU on its own 8-yard line. Granite Bay wouldn’t touch the ball again.
The Miners methodically matriculated the ball down the field, running the clock down to zero with a quarterback kneel on the Grizzlies’ 1-yard line.
“I couldn’t be prouder of this team,” NU head coach Chris Buti said. “Words can’t even express.”
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email email@example.com.