It is week two of the prep football season, but for Nevada Union and Grant, it’s rivalry week.
The Miners and Pacers renewed their historic Northern California rivalry last season when NU went to Grant and thrashed the Pacers to the tune of 37-7.
Kyle Cota had four passing touchdowns in the first half, Ian Davis torched the Pacer secondary for 113 yards receiving and a pair of touchdowns, and the defense forced five turnovers and held a very athletic Grant team to just seven points.
A year later, the game will be played at Hooper Stadium, there is no Cota or Davis anymore, and Mike Alberghini’s Pacers will be heading up the hill with revenge on their minds.
To make things worse, the Miners enter the game with a slight limp as several key players are dealing with injuries.
Junior fullback Mo Nieves is out this week and possibly more, pending an MRI, after suffering a knee injury late in the McQueen game.
“We’ve had to make some changes,” Nevada Union head coach Dennis Houlihan said.
“Obviously, Mo was a key part, and I know as he was going to grow and he was going to be a pretty good back for us, but his health is what we are worried about now.”
Senior running back Jake Berger, who led the team in rushing against McQueen with 89 yards on nine carries, will take Nieves’ spot in the offense, said Houlihan.
Senior Joe Voight steps into Berger’s spot in the offense. Voight gave the Miner faithful something to get excited about against McQueen when he busted off a 72-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter.
Kicker and punter Chandler Heppe will also miss this week’s game after dislocating his shoulder during the McQueen game. Nieves was the back-up kicker and punter, but now those duties will fall to a far less experienced group.
Junior running back and linebacker J.D. Atkinson will assume the punting responsibilities for NU, said Houlihan.
“He’s never done it in a game, but he can kick it,” said Houlihan.
“We are just telling him to get it off quick and aim for the sidelines.”
As for field goal and place kicking duties, the Miners tried out several candidates, including a pair of NU soccer players. A final decision on who the kicker will be was not made as of Wednesday.
As for Grant, they come into Friday’s game riding high after coming from a two-touchdown deficit against Paradise in week one to win 33-14.
Against Paradise, Grant got most of its points through the air as junior quarterback Donovan Brown completed 12-of-23 passes for 189 yards and four touchdowns. Fellow junior Ariyon Huff, a 5-foot, 6-inch wide receiver, caught five balls for 100 yards and three touchdowns.
“We are trying to keep depth,” Houlihan said about his secondary.
“Grant doesn’t dink and dunk. They go for the home run and they are a little taller than our DBs, but our DBs have been working the fade and the deep route, and that’s what we got. We are going to play them; if they out-jump us, fine. If we are in the right position and breaking on the ball, I’m happy with that.”
The Pacers, like the Miners, are a junior driven team. Grant is starting 17 underclassman this season, and while their inexperience showed in the first quarter against Paradise, their athleticism won out in the end.
This week Houlihan preached toughness and execution to his team as key tenets of victory.
“Physically I hope we are,” he said of his team’s preparedness for Friday’s game.
“We have a couple of new guys that have just come in Tuesday and Wednesday that are learning the positions and were a little off on execution, but we have one more day to do that, and that’s the key against them. We have to execute because they will take advantage of mistakes.”
As for the person taking snaps for NU on Friday, it will be senior Michael Tapia and sophomore Justus Spillner, splitting time again.
“Unless one is really able to finish off drives and continue drives, then we will stick with that person.” Houlihan said.
“Last week, we really struggled in the passing game and even to maintain a drive past the 50-yard line in the first half, but at the same time, they kept rotating and Spillner did a good job late in the game and Michael relaxed a bit, so you will probably see plenty of both of them in the game.”
Kickoff is at 7:15 p.m. tonight at Hooper Stadium on the Nevada Union campus.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email email@example.com.