Miners fumbled away chance at major upset | TheUnion.com

Miners fumbled away chance at major upset

Mo Nieves
John Hart/jhart@theunion.com | The Union

In a game of inches, even the smallest of mistakes can alter the outcome of a game — the big mistakes cost teams wins.

A handful of big mistakes by the Miners Friday night left a Sasquatch sized footprint on the contest and cost them a chance at a major upset over Pleasant Grove.

The Miners played up to and beyond the level of the Eagles in the first half, controlling the game on both sides of the ball and grabbing a 21-14 lead with 35 seconds left before halftime.

But that’s when the Miners stopped seizing opportunities and started handing them over to Pleasant Grove.

NU allowed Pleasant Grove to sail down the field in a matter of 30 seconds and easily score a game-tying touchdown just before half.

Despite losing the momentum that had shifted to the Eagles at the half, NU was not deterred. The Miners came out and forced a three-and-out by the Eagles, but a muffed punt gave Pleasant Grove the ball inside the 30-yard line. The Eagles capitalized.

On NU’s next possession, the Miners ran two plays before coughing the ball up once more. Again, with a short field, Pleasant Grove scored. In a matter of five game-time minutes, NU had gone from leading 21-14, to trailing 35-21.

In all, NU fumbled the ball away three times in the second half and four times overall.

With a glimmer of hope left, the Miners pinned the Eagles on their own 1-yard line to start the fourth, but were unable to take advantage of their opponent’s poor field position, eventually giving up a 95-yard pass play for a touchdown that all but sealed the game for the Eagles.

The Miners continually answered the call in the first half and looked like a team that could compete with any other in the section, but in the second half they became door men, holding open the gateway for the Eagles to fly through.

On the bright side

The Miners are scoring in the first half of games and against opponents’ starters.

In the first half alone, NU is averaging 17.5 points per game through two weeks. Last season, NU averaged 4.1 points per game in the first half.

A big reason for the much improved scoring outputs is that NU can play with the big boys now. The Miners’ line, anchored by Enzo Arata, is bigger and stronger and can move people in the trenches. With an improved line, Mo Nieves and Travis Owens have been able to showcase their running abilities. Nieves has topped the century mark in both games this season and has a total of 329 rushing yards to go with two touchdowns. Impressively, Nieves is averaging 9.4 yards per carry, and has touchdown runs of 82 and 73 this season.

Travis Owens has racked up 282 yards rushing on 31 carries, a 9.1 yard per carry average. Owens has also sparked the Miners elsewhere with 164 kick return yards, including a 90-yard kick return for a touchdown against Pleasant Grove.

Nevada Union head coach Dennis Houlihan also showed he can get creative with the play book, scoring touchdowns with a half-back pass, a wrap-around draw and on a reverse kick return.

“Why not,” Houlihan said. “We don’t have anything to lose, so why not.”

Pressure D has mixed results

Defensively, the Miners have shown they can rush the passer, but they struggle in coverage. Through two games, NU has nine sacks coming from five different players. Senior linebacker Josh Belendez leads the defense with five sacks and 35 tackles. Conversely, the secondary has been burnt for long touchdowns in both games, and was carved up against Pleasant Grove to the tune of 324 yards.

The Miners hit the road again Friday to face the Lincoln Fighting Zebras (0-2), who are led by first year head coach Chris Bean, former head coach of Bear River’s junior varsity football team.

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email wford@theunion.com.

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