It’s been big before.
But this big?
The Nevada Union and Grant football programs have long been perennial powers in the Sac-Joaquin Section. They butted heads for years for the Capital Athletic League championship, and little has changed since the two joined the Metro Conference.
But for the first time in this rivalry, in which Grant owns a 7-6-1 lead, the Miners and Pacers are both undefeated heading into a season finale. The winner claims the Metro crown – and more.
With a win, the Miners (9-0) also earn a home date in next week’s first round of the Division I Section playoffs, hosting the third-place Delta League team – Laguna Creek or Elk Grove. Tonight’s loser hits the road in round one, facing Delta champion, Jesuit.
“You can’t ask for anything more with this year’s matchup,” said Grant coach Mike Alberghini. “You’ve got two undefeated teams – No. 1 and No. 2 in the area – both ranked in the state, the top two teams in the Sacramento area. It just can’t be any better.
“The only predictable thing when we play NU is that it’s unpredictable who will win. It’s about as exciting as it can get with sports. There’s nothing like the excitement of playing NU. We’ve won Section titles and many football games, but nothing is more exciting than playing and winning this game.”
For Grant, that excitement spilled over in a 14-13 win at NU’s Hooper Stadium a year ago. The year before, ankle-deep in muddy conditions, it was the Miners that eked out a 9-8 victory with a last-minute field goal.
“The games the last two years have been incredible,” said NU coach Dave Humphers. “Two years ago, we kicked a late field goal to win, and last year was about a carbon copy of that game and we missed the kick. So they’ve been great battles.”
Humphers expects to see another tight contest tonight, though he knows the challenge Grant offers will be a big one up front and fast one on the fringe.
“Playing against them makes me really proud of our team, our kids and our program,” he said. “There offensive line averages 301 pounds. You know, they are bigger than the (San Francisco) 49ers up front. The defensive line we’ll put on the field averages 177.5 pounds. And they have tremendous speed at the skill positions.
“They have tremendous talent and a tremendous size advantage.”
That advantage doesn’t exactly have Alberghini and his Pacers feeling overconfident coming into the contest.
“You just never know when Grant and NU play,” he said. “It’s just two football teams trying to live up to a great tradition.
“You look back, and each game has had significant plays, like our loss two years ago. Our defense played so great the whole game and then to have a kick win it in those kinds of conditions. It was magnificent for them and a crusher for us.”
Alberghini expects to see a slew of Miners making an impact tonight, making it difficult for the Pacers to focus solely on one or two key players. Grant’s defense has been the definition of stingy this season, allowing their opponents a total of 47 points (5.2 per game).
“We’ve played very well defensively,” he said. “But there’s no doubt about it, our defense has to stand tall this week. We’ll be tested by a team that’s very versatile. It’s a different kind of NU team. They’ve always had one or two standouts, but this year they’ve divided (the running game) equally among three kids. They all contribute and can all hurt you at times.
“It’s all based around a quarterback (Jon Sheets) who is a great leader for them. And with their wide receiver (Joe Dolan), they have more of a variety of ways of attacking you this year.”
Humphers noted that NU won’t be alone in offensive firepower tonight. Grant, also, has a high-scoring offense. The Pacers have scored 374 points (41.5 per game), while the Miners have pounded opponents for 386 (42.8).
“Both teams pride themselves with playing great defense,” Humphers said. “But both teams have been potent, high-scoring offenses, too – close to a point per minute.
“Usually a game with Grant has been a lower-scoring type of deal. But once again, when it comes to NU and Grant, you’ve got to get ready for just about everything.”
Alberghini said fans should just be getting ready for another classic matchup.
“You’re going to see two teams that have played tremendous all year long, and one of them will get beat, but will also have a tough road game a week later,” he said. “If this was week three, it would have been a big game, but it wouldn’t be as big as it is in week 10.
“I wish every other game in town was canceled, then everyone could see this.”
KNOW & GO
WHAT: Metro Conference Championship
Nevada Union (9-0)
vs. Grant (9-0)
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today
WHERE: Grant HS
TO GET THERE: Take Hwy. 49 to Auburn. Take I-80 towards Sacramento. Stay on I-80 towards San Francisco. Exit at Marysville/Raley Blvd. Go left to Grand Ave. Take right on Grand Ave. Grant Union High School will be on the right.
ON THE AIR:
KNCO – 830 AM Radio (live broadcast)
FCAT – midnight (same-day tape)
Grant 5-0-0 9-0-0
Nevada Union 5-0-0 9-0-0
Woodland 3-2-0 7-2-0
Yuba City 2-3-0 2-7-0
Kennedy 2-4-0 2-7-0
Hiram Johnson 1-4-0 1-8-0
McClatchy 0-5-0 1-8-0
Tommie Hall 661 yards
C.J. Wallace 1330, Gerwin Williams 747
Syd Thompson 329, Lakendrick Edwards 138 , Anthony Williams 130
Leo Fotofili 125, Joaquin Martinson 89, Jerrick Bland 69,
Virgil Johnson 18, Leo Fotofili 7, Joaquin Martinson 5
Nevada Union statistics
John Sheets 1366 yards
Vu Pham 691, Joey Bratton 555, Chris Thibodeau 494
Joe Dolan 700, Chris Thibodeau 345, Joey Bratton 312
Steve Kenny 61, Mike Manzinali 50, Brandon Julian 44
Kris Sulonen 8, Brandon Julian 7, Christian Carlson 4
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Despite high winds with numerous heat race cancellations on Saturday, the Reno STIHL National Championship Air Races concluded five days of racing on Sunday with the following Gold Championships in six of its seven classes