What a difference a year makes.
After going winless in 2013, the Nevada Union football team wasted no time notching a win this season, beating Placer handily on its own turf, 41-20, in the season opener.
“It’s a monkey off our back,” NU head coach Dennis Houlihan said. “Our kids played their butts off and they were confident coming in. It was really nice and is was way overdue.”
The Miners (1-0) dominated on both sides of the ball as the offense racked up more than 550 yards from scrimmage and their defense did a good job of slowing the Hillmen’s multi-faceted run attack.
The Miners run game was the difference as Houlihan’s pistol wing-T ate up 408 yards and three ground scores.
NU’s Travis Owens led all rushers with 196 yards and one touchdown. Owens did most of his damage in the second half with 143 yards in the final two quarters alone. Mo Nieves added 193 yards on the ground, including an 82-yard touchdown run that put NU up 14-0 in the first quarter.
“Our offensive line is the start of it,” Houlihan said. “The bottom line is my dad (Pat Houlihan) has been working with them, he got them to believe in themselves. But, Travis and Mo are that good. They are speedy and shifty, and they’re building confidence.”
The Miners got on the board earlier in the first when junior quarterback Justus Spillner found fellow junior Drew Daniels in the back of the end zone for a 19-yard passing touchdown.
“First, we mentally tapped in and we blocked out all the haters and doubters out there, talking about how Placer was going to kill us. We mentally prepared all week and we didn’t take them easy,” Spillner said.
Spillner would hit Daniels again in the third for a 60-yard score after a beautiful play action froze the Placer secondary. Spillner finished the game 10-for-18 for 161 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, which was tipped into the air after hitting an NU receiver’s helmet.
Spillner’s other scoring strike was a 26-yarder to tight end Andrew Schnitzius who was open up the seam.
Daniels led all receivers on the night and finished the game with five catches for 91 yards and the two touchdowns.
In the first half, Placer looked like it was poised to cut NU’s 14-0 edge in half, but the Miner defense held them at the goal line to head into halftime with the two-touchdown edge.
Leading the defensive effort was senior linebacker Josh Belendez, who tallied 17 tackles and four sacks, three of which came in the first half. Owens scooped up a fumble to halt a Placer drive and Daniels snagged an interception after Owens tipped the ball away from the Placer receiver.
Also contributing on defense was Joseph Ten-Eyck with 13 tackles, and Caleb Patterson and Colton Barker with eight tackles each.
“Going against the wing-T everyday, our linebackers know how to read that,” Houlihan said. “They were able to shut us down all week, so I told them they better be able to stop Placer.”
Placer was led on the ground by Cole Blackwell with 85 yards and two touchdowns.
The Hillmen passing game was under attack all night as the Miners’ pressure got to quarterback Clark Pietromonaco early and often. Pietromonaco finished the night with 94 yards, hitting on 7-of-13 attempts with one touchdown and one interception.
The win snaps a 13-game losing streak for NU that dates back to the 2012 season.
JV: Placer 20, NU 7
The Miners battled to a 7-7 tie at halftime, but the Hillmen had their way in the final two quarters, scoring twice to take the season opener from NU.
Leading NU was quarterback Gary Menary with 110 yards passing on 9-of-11 attempts. NU’s only score came on a 1-yard plunge by Nick Whittlesey.
Defensively for the Miners, they were led by Grady McCuen with 12 tackles, Jordan O’Hara came up with a pick and Jonathan Weaver tallied 10 tackles.
Frosh: NU 46, Placer 6
The Miners took it to the Hillmen Thursday, opening the season with a 40-point victory.
Nevada Union quarterback Owen Dal Bon hit on three touchdown passes, connecting with Owen Day, Hayden Fay and Justin Houlihan through the air for scores.
Houlihan also scored on the defensive end with a scoop and score off a Placer fumble.
Tyler Nielson got in on the scoring with a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.