Before the season started Nevada Union’s senior linebacker Josh Belendez promised that the Miners’ defense would be better than they were a year ago. He kept his promise last Friday.
The Miners did almost everything right on their way to a 41-20 drubbing of Placer, but what stood out the most wasn’t the leaps and bounds quarterback Justus Spillner has made from last season, or the fact that the NU offense produced more than 550 yards from scrimmage. What stood out most was the Miners defense.
NU held Placer scoreless well into the third quarter, and while it allowed two other late junk time touchdowns, the Miners showed they are a far cry from the defense that allowed 55.1 points per game last season.
Much of the credit has to go to defensive coordinator Brad Dal Bon.
“Dal Bon’s done a great job,” NU head coach Dennis Houlihan said. “We put in a new defense, and they are really starting to believe in it, really starting to learn it and each week I think we will get better.”
Dal Bon said before the season started that he wanted a faster, more physical defense that featured linebacker/defensive back type hybrid players, and wanted to put pressure on the quarterback.
With Miners flying to the ball, tackling far better than last season and getting burnt far less, the new system is definitely working.
Taking advantage of the new, and more aggressive, defense was senior linebacker Josh Belendez who finished the night with 17 tackles (11 solo) and three sacks. Belendez knifed through the Placer offensive line at will, sacking their shifty quarterback on critical third downs multiple times.
NU truly showed its defensive grit in the second quarter. With a 14-0 lead, Placer moved down to the 2-yard line and looked poised to cut NU’s lead in half, but the Miners stiffened and stopped the Hillmen in their tracks.
The Miners’ offense did a good job of rewarding the defense for its stellar effort by giving them plenty of rest. NU ran 70 offensive plays, while Placer got off just 43 snaps (punts not included). Placer managed just 104 yards through the air and had a pass picked off by NU’s Drew Daniels. On the ground NU allowed 183 yards rushing (much of which came in the late stages of the game).
Whether it was through the air or on the ground the Miners got the job done.
On the offensive end, Houlihan’s pistol formation version of the wing-T worked like a charm.
Senior running backs Mo Nieves (193 yards rushing, rush TD) and Travis Owens (196 yards rushing, rush TD) combined for 389 rushing yards and rushing two touchdowns. As a team the Miners finished with 409 rushing yards, averaged eight yards per carry and scored three touchdowns.
With the run game working and junior quarterback Spillner throwing crisp balls from the pocket, NU’s pass game took off. Spillner finished with 161 yards on 10-18 passing and three touchdowns, including a 60-yard bomb to Daniels just minutes after Placer got on the board for the first time. Spillner moved the ball around well, hitting five different receivers on the night. Spillner’s performance was good enough to get him nominated for prep player of the week by the Sacramento Bee. Voting is currently open on the Sac Bee website and will be until noon Thursday.
Spillner’s marked improvement wasn’t lost on him after the game.
“It felt really good,” Spillner said about the NU passing game. “Since I only had three touchdowns all of last season.”
Spillner’s top target was Daniels with four catches for 89 yards and two scores.
The Miners celebration needs to be short lived though, as the competition steps up a notch Friday. NU will host its home opener against a talented Pleasant Grove team still stinging from a 34-10 week zero loss to Rocklin.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.