FOOTBALL: Natomas hopes to spoil homecoming night for Miners |

FOOTBALL: Natomas hopes to spoil homecoming night for Miners

Scott P. Hopper
Staff Writer

The crisp air for tonight’s game at Hooper Stadium between the Miners of Nevada Union and the Nighthawks of Natomas brings more than the first fall home game, it also offers the chills, thrills, hoopla and excitement of Homecoming night.

And Nevada Union hopes to be celebrating at the expense of a Natomas team the Miners buried last season under an eight-touchdown avalanche for a 56-12 nonleague rout on the road. But with a new coach at the helm of the program, the Nighthawks have already surpassed their win total from 2008.

Natomas’ first-year coach is no rookie. Frank Negri, a 74-year-old football legend who posted 240 wins at Foothill High School, has taken the helm of a team that was 1-9 last season.

“He was Foothill’s only coach for 42 years,” Humphers said. “He has made some changes to the team. They have a ton of talent. They are tall, fast and athletic.”

The Nighthawk offense will look to exploit the Miner defense with their 5-foot, 11-inch, 160-pound junior option quarterback Joe Hill, who has four touchdowns on the ground and two more through the air. Hill often looks to run or pitch the ball to running back Derrick Johnson, who has three touchdowns on the season.

If Nevada Union can stop the run-first offense, then the Nighthawks will likely look to throw the ball to Mustafa Vercher, who is averaging more than 17 yards a catch.

“Hill is the key to their offense,” Humphers said.

The Miners and the Nighthawks both take the field with 2-1 records tonight, but they’ve arrived at those marks in different ways. Nevada Union has scorched opponents for 129 points in three weeks, while Natomas has posted 79 points on the board.

“We have played three quality opponents and have averaged 43 points per game,” NU coach Dave Humphers said.

The Miners are led by running back Jason Slade’s six touchdowns on the ground and quarterback Broughan Jantz’s five scoring strikes to four different receivers.

As they do with every opponent, NU coaches have scouted Natomas and have prepared the players for the Nighthawks’ plan of attack. But, Humphers says, it still comes down to how his own team will execute.

“It does not matter if we are playing a strong team or weak team, we look to improve and ask ourselves, ‘Did that meet our standards?'” Humphers said. “We have been playing strong passing teams and needed to see improvement. Junior defensive back Justin Fike and junior inside linebacker Zach Vallejo gave us just that.

“Homecoming can be a distraction to the players, but it is also a time to welcome home old players and teammates. Currently, 21 Miner alums will not be able to make it to (tonight’s) game because they are playing, coaching in college or playing in the pros.

“It is a pretty special period of time for our football program and our community to have so much passion and success with our football student-athletes.”

Scott P. Hopper is a sports writer for The Union. Contact him via e-mail at or by phone at 477-4231.

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