PREP FOOTBALL: Miners ready to dig into playoffs
Know & Go
What: Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 Playoffs
Who: No. 9 Nevada Union (5-5) at No. 8 Vanden (5-5)
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Where: Vanden High School, 2951 Markley Ln, Fairfield
Follow along: On Twitter @WalterLFordIII or on the radio at 830 AM (KNCO)
The wait is over.
After six seasons of gridiron futility, the Nevada Union football Miners are back in the playoffs and looking forward to showcasing what they are capable of.
“It’s been a great week of practice,” said Nevada Union head coach Brad Sparks. “We’ve got high spirits and guys are excited about playing in Week 11. Energy is high. It’s exciting. It’s fun.”
The Miners (5-5) are the No. 9 seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section’s Division 4 bracket after a regular season which featured several peaks and valleys. Nevada Union opened the season with lopsided loss to Yuba City, but then reeled off four straight wins including blowouts over Harbor, River City and Fairfield, and an overtime victory against Napa. The Miners then dropped close bouts with league foes Placer and Oakmont before snapping a 38-game league losing streak with a win over Ponderosa at home on Senior Night. They then struggled against their next two opponents, losing to Lincoln and Rio Linda by large margins.
The Miners will look to find their stride once again when they face off with No. 8 Vanden at 7 p.m. Friday in Fairfield.
The Vanden Vikings are in the playoffs for a seventh straight season after going 5-5 overall and finishing second in the Monticello Empire League. They come into the contest averaging 28.9 points per game and allowing 20.9.
“They are super fast, and very athletic,” Sparks said of Vanden.
The Vikings are balanced in their offensive attack, averaging 204 rush yards and 143 pass yards per game. Leading the way is senior quarterback Jordan Woolard (1,125 pass yards, 15 pass TDs, 239 rush yards, 3 TDs) and sophomore running back Malakhi Demoss (834 rush yards, 15 total TDs).
“We’ve got to tackle well and we’ve got to tackle in numbers,’ said Sparks. “That means we got to have 10 to 11 hats to the ball every time.”
Looking to slow the Vikings will be an NU defense which has allowed 19.5 points per game this season.
Leading the Miners defensive effort all season has been linebackers Duke Morales (80 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks) and Gabe Baker (65 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks). NU also boasts a pass rush which has tallied 22 sacks this season, and an opportunistic secondary which has accounted for 16 interceptions.
Offensively for the Miners, it’s been a bit inconsistent. Through the first five games of the season, NU was putting up an average of 46.4 point per game. Across the final five games of the season, the Miners tallied just 11.6 points per game, and have been held without a touchdown the past two weeks.
The offense is predicated on the run, which averages 183.1 yards per game.
At the forefront of the offensive charge is junior running back Jaxon Horne, who leads the team in rush yards (995), receiving yards (313) and total touchdowns (18).
The pass game has been a work in progress all season for the Miners, who average just 80.3 passing yards per game. Getting the nod at quarterback will be Baker, who will be making just his second varsity start at the position.
“He makes plays with his feet,” Sparks said of Baker. “He takes off and runs for first downs, he can scramble and throw, and make plays that way. In this offense you need a quarterback who can do that. He’s a tough as nails kind of kid.”
LONG ROAD TO VANDEN
As the No. 9 seed, the Miners are on the road in the first round and will be making the long trip to Vanden High School in Fairfield. The 97-mile (one way) trek is the fourth longest drive of all the first round matchups. The longest first round matchup has Los Banos going 146-miles to Woodland in a D5 matchup.
The Miners join every other team from the Foothill Valley League in the playoffs. League champ Placer (8-2, 5-0) is the No. 2 seed in D3. Second place Rio Linda (8-2, 4-1) is the No. 1 seed in D4. Third place Ponderosa (5-5, 2-3) is the No. 8 seed in D3, fourth place Lincoln (5-5, 2-3) is the No. 8 seed in D2 and fifth place Oakmont (6-4, 1-4) is the No. 11 seed in D2. It’s the first time in Section history that every team in a league made the playoffs,
“It’s a super competitive, physical league,” said Sparks.
A LITTLE HISTORY
The Miners are in the playoffs for the 26th time in school history. They’ve gone 37-21 in postseason play and captured four Sac-Joaquin Section titles (1993, 1994, 2005, 2009).
Vanden is in the playoffs for the 32nd time in school history and brings a 17-28 record in postseason play. They’ve won three section titles, with the last coming in 1995.
The Miners and Vikings are scheduled to get going at 7 p.m., Friday at Vanden High School.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4232.
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