Nevada Union’s football team forced six first-half turnovers and had top-seeded Franklin on the ropes early, but an impressive Wildcat ground game and staunch defense eventually wore the Miners down.
Behind 268 yards and three touchdowns from senior Kyran Harris, the Franklin Wildcats (11-0 overall, 5-0 Delta Valley League) were able to overcome a seven-point second quarter deficit to beat NU 35-14 in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I football playoffs.
“We played a great first half,” NU head coach Dave Humphers said, “but made some mistakes with about four minutes left in the half.”
After giving up an 80-yard touchdown run to Harris in the first quarter, NU answered right back. The Miners (5-6 overall, 2-3 Sierra Foothill League) marched down the field and scored on a Kyle Cota to Ian Davis 12-yard touchdown pass.
Cota has found Davis for a touchdown 11 times this season.
NU took the lead in the second quarter after a Hank Humphers interception set them up in good field position. A few plays later, Tanner Vallejo broke a pair of tackles and spun around another defender to score from 19 yards out.
Up 14-7, the Nevada Union defense continued to play Franklin tough, bending but not breaking. In the first half, NU’s Jason Murray had an interception and a fumble recovery, Hank Humphers had an interception and a fumble recovery, Davis grabbed an interception, and junior safety Gareth Noxon pulled down an interception.
With under five minutes left in the half, NU took over near its own 20. Cota dropped back to pass but was flushed out by the Wildcat defense. When Cota stepped up to throw, he was drilled from behind, and the ball squirted free. Franklin’s Damion Sanders scooped it up and sauntered in from 18 yards out to tie the game at 14-14.
Cota, who was playing with a deep thigh bruise, was under pressure all night from the blitz-happy Wildcats. Franklin dropped Cota for a sack on six different occasions and picked him twice.
“Kyle Cota was a warrior tonight,” Humphers said. “He decided to play, and it was a challenge for our offense to protect him against a very good defense.”
Cota finished the night 13-for-38 for 134 yards and a touchdown.
“(Cota) is a special guy,” NU coach Jared Amalong said. “Kyle was ailed with an injury coming into the night, so his mobility was challenged from the first snap, and they’re a really good team. He was using every once of energy and ability he had to make plays. I’ve never seen anything like it. He had a fantastic game a couple weeks ago and threw for eons of yards, but I’m more impressed with his heart tonight than I am with anything.”
Just before the half, Franklin’s other senior running back, Christian Fonbuena, ripped off a 62-yard touchdown run to put the Wildcats up 21-14.
In the first half, NU forced six Wildcat turnovers but could only turn them into seven points.
The Miners got the ball after halftime, but a fumble on their first play from scrimmage gave the Wildcats the ball on the NU 1-yard line. Harris punched it in two plays later.
Harris took any wind the Miners may have had left in their sails when the talented back busted a 46-yard touchdown run off the left side to put the Wildcats up 35-14 with a minute left in the third quarter.
With NU trailing by 21, it was forced to pass on nearly every play, allowing the Wildcat defenders to pin their ears back and go after Cota.
The senior quarterback did all he could, but the rush was relentless, and the Miner offense stalled for much of the second half.
The Wildcats didn’t throw the ball in the second half, running it 29 straight times. Franklin finished with more than 400 yards rushing, including the 268 from Harris, 103 from Fonbuena and 64 from Steven Rogers.
The Miner pass defense had its best game of the season, allowing just 26 pass yards and snatching four interceptions.
Nevada Union’s leading rusher was Hank Humphers with 46 yards on seven carries, 43 of which came on one play. Vallejo added 39 on the ground.
Vallejo, recently named the SFL Defensive MVP for the second straight year, led the defense with 11 tackles. T.J Hart added seven tackles and Hank Humphers also wrapped up seven Wildcats.
“We said from the start we were going to battle like crazy and do it honorably,” Dave Humphers said. “And the way we played tonight, I was proud that we were Nevada Union.”
To contact Sports Writer Walter Ford, call (530) 477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.