The Nevada Union football team has endured one lopsided loss after another this season, the most recent a 69-42 defeat at the hands of Roseville, pushing the Miners to 0-8.
But the mounting losses have not changed the fact that each Friday night the Miners line up as the underdog and take on the next football powerhouse on their daunting schedule. This Friday, Nevada Union gets Sierra Foothill League leader Del Oro (6-2, 3-0 SFL) before closing the season against reigning Division I state champ Granite Bay. At 0-8 and the playoffs not being an issue since September, the Miners have adjusted their goals.
Before Friday’s game against Roseville, Nevada Union head coach Dennis Houlihan charged his team with the task of building a foundation for the future — they did just that.
“I told them (last) week in practice, ‘Give us one thing in these last three weeks that we can build on,’” Houlihan said. “(On Friday), I think we did.”
On the offensive side of the ball, the Miners set several season highs both individually and as a team.
Against Roseville, the Miners broke out of a three-game slump in which they didn’t top 100 yards rushing as a team. NU mounted an impressive ground game that totaled 461 yards and five touchdowns, eclipsing their previous season high (265 yards against McQueen in Week 1) by 196 yards. In all, the Miner offense rolled for 619 yards and six touchdowns, topping their previous best output of 310 yards by almost double. NU’s 42 points was also a season high, topping their previous best of 16.
The Miner with the biggest day offensively was Travis Owens, who tore up the Tigers from the opening whistle.
Owens, a junior running back, had a career game with 182 yards rushing, 111 yards receiving and two touchdowns, one a 48-yard run and another a 64-yard pass reception. Owens, a durable back with quickness and good moves in the open field, leads NU on the ground this season with 403 yards and one touchdown on 83 carries. Owens also leads the Miners in receiving yards with 218 yards and three touchdowns.
The Miners’ other junior running back, Mo Nieves, also had a break out game with 115 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries, and for the first time since returning from a Week 1 knee injury, Nieves looked unhindered by the ailment.
“Confidence-wise, we haven’t really had confidence on the offensive side this year,” Nieves said after the game. “But tonight, we put up the most points we have all season, and it’s a real boost.”
Nieves and Owens were a dynamic duo as junior varsity runners last season, amassing just under 3,000 yards and 33 touchdowns combined.
“It’s so nice,” Nieves said of he and Owens both running well. “Last year, Travis and I combined for 3,000 yards, and that flow really kicked butt, and to have it again — it’s game-changing.”
Nieves’ power running style is a nice compliment to Owens’ speed, giving NU a multidimensional run attack.
Getting in on the action was sophomore running back Edwin Dardon. The Week 5 junior varsity call-up showed why NU has so much confidence in him with 141 yards and a touchdown on eight carries against Roseville. Dardon showed his ability to take a hit and keep on rumbling with runs of 69 and 29 that came after Dardon absorbed and shed the first tackler. Dardon has good size and speed for a sophomore and will likely be a key cog in the NU offense moving forward.
Another sophomore with a career night was NU quarterback Justus Spillner. The fresh-faced signal-caller threw for a season-high 158 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown pass to Owens. It was Spillner’s third passing score of the season and his second since Week 1.
So if NU needed something or somewhere to start building that foundation for the future, offensively that may have been Friday against Roseville.
“That’s a big thing Houlihan talked about,” Nieves said. “We’re not going to the playoffs, but he wants us to work to something that we can build on. Something we can take from this year and use it next year.”
On the defensive side though, there is still quicksand where the foundation should go. The Miners gave up a season-high 69 points Friday to a team that came in averaging 24.1 points per game. The Tigers had several big plays for touchdowns, including two kick returns, a 71-yard screen pass, a 79-yard quarterback keeper and three other scoring runs of more than 20 yards.
The Miners have the Sierra Foothill League’s worst defense and have allowed 392 points this season, an average of 49 per game.
The Miners may not win a game this season, but the ground work, offensively at least, was set Friday. Now only time will tell what NU builds on it.
Around the SFL
Del Oro 30, Granite Bay 28
In a back-and-forth affair between two of the top contenders for the Sierra Foothill League title, it was Del Oro knocking off Granite Bay with a late field goal to stay unbeaten in league play.
After Granite Bay stormed back from a 27-14 deficit with a pair of passing touchdowns to make it 28-27, Del Oro had one last drive.
The Golden Eagles (6-2, 3-0 SFL) drove down the field setting up Mason Humes with a 27-yard field goal attempt for the win. Humes hit the kick, his third of the night, and Del Oro remains at the top of the SFL with Rocklin.
Del Oro heads to Hooper Stadium Friday to take on the Miners, and Granite Bay (5-3, 1-2 SFL) will host Woodcreek.
Rocklin 45, Woodcreek 0
The SFL’s best defense didn’t disappoint Friday, blanking the Timberwolves in a 45-point route.
The Thunder held Woodcreek to just 119 yards rushing and 82 passing as they kept pace with Del Oro in the race for the SFL title.
Rocklin got 210 yards ruhing and two touchdowns from their sophomore running back, Evyn Holtz, to go with an efficient day from quarterback Logan Webb (124 passing yards, two touchdowns) to easily extend its winning streak to six games.
Rocklin (6-2, 3-0 SFL) gets Roseville (4-4, 1-2 SFL) this Friday, and Woodcreek (3-5, 1-2 SFL) travels to Granite Bay.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.