It’s all on the line Single-elimination playoffs open Friday at Hooper Stadium
One Metro Conference championship.
Twenty-four players with all-league honors.
The Nevada Union football team’s regular-season numbers speak for themselves.
But all of those statistics won’t mean much if the Miners lose to visiting Laguna Creek in their Sac-Joaquin Section Division I first-round playoff game Friday.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
“Laguna Creek is a very talented team,” NU head coach Dave Humphers said. “They’ve got a mix of speed and power in the backfield and big, quick linemen. Their record is 7-2-1, but they’re only five points away from being 10-0.”
The Cardinals, the Delta League’s No. 3 seed, tied Division II Cordova in their preseason opener, then beat Vacaville – a D-II playoff qualifier – and Rocklin going into their league opener with Jesuit (Carmichael).
Laguna Creek trailed the eventual Delta League champion Marauders 21-14 at the half.
After a scoreless third quarter and half of the fourth, the Cardinals’ Keith Johnson proved just how dangerous he can be with ball in his hands, breaking off an 87-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to a single point.
“They went for two and from the game film, it looked like the guy fell right on the goal line,” Humphers said. “It’s a call that could have gone either way.”
The conversion failed and Jesuit held on for a 21-20 win.
Seven nights later, the Cardinals led Florin (Sacramento) – which took second in the league – by eight points at the break, but couldn’t hold in a 15-14 loss.
“They could have very easily won those two games and they’d (be hosting a first round game). So they’re right there competitive-wise with the best teams in their league,” Humphers said.
While Laguna Creek has a number of weapons to choose from in the backfield, Johnson is the main man.
The 5-foot, 10-inch, 175-pound junior halfback has rushed for a team-high 936 yards on 146 carries with six touchdowns.
He will team with fullback Alan Darlin (6-1, 225) and his team-high 10 rushing touchdowns, along with Elisha Johnson (5-10, 180) and his healthy 14.8 yards per carry average, to try to run the Miner defense ragged.
“They run a pro-I with multiple sets. They’re going to run the ball right at us, (but) they’ll throw to spread the field,” Humphers said.
Matt Podesto will line up under center for the Cardinals.
The 6-foot, 1-inch, 170-pound junior has thrown for 820 yards on 51-of-129 passing with five touchdowns and six interceptions.
His favorite targets are – surprise, surprise – Darlin and Johnson.
Darlin, who is fourth among Delta League scorers with 80 points, has reeled in 15 balls for a team-high 197 yards with a pair of touchdowns. Johnson is right behind with 194 yards on six catches with one score.
The Cardinals’ offensive numbers are respectable enough, but it’s their defense which Humphers said defines this year’s squad.
They have allowed a scant 11.8 points per contest compared to NU’s 16.8.
“They have really focused on being a strong defensive club. They’ve stopped people all year,” Humphers said. “Every one of the players they put on the field is solid.”
Darlin leads the team – and is fourth in the league – in tackles with 121 from his linebacking spot.
Fellow linebackers Chris Mott (5-11, 190), Eric Sturges (6-0, 190) and Zach Jiru (6-4, 220) have combined for 189 tackles and 11 sacks.
The Cardinals also have a pair of bona fide playmakers in the defensive backfield.
Mychael Rowe (5-8, 175) is third on the team with 65 tackles, while Stephone Paige (6-3 170) has snagged a team-high three interceptions.
The entire Miner squad was on cloud nine after the 43-40 win at Grant (Sacramento) last week, but Humphers knows his team can’t afford a letdown Friday.
“The Grant win was very emotional, and after the season we can can think back and enjoy it, but right now our focus is on our future,” Humphers said. “We coaches, and the players, have to really zero in on Laguna Creek.”
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
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